Young Adult Connections Articles

“Welcome to our Newsletter Archive! Here, we’ve gathered insightful articles from our monthly Catholic203 newsletters. Dive into stories, reflections, and experiences from our young adult community. Enjoy the read and deepen your faith journey with us.”

Inspiring Young Saints of the Catholic Church

Because you all enjoyed the first post, here are more young Catholic beati and saints to inspire you! Though less known, their devotion to the faith and impact on the Church are just as profound. Let’s explore their stories together!

He was a dedicated assistant to Jesuit missionaries and was thus arrested in the purge of Christians launched in Vietnam in 1644. After refusing to abjure the faith, he was put to death in Kẻ Chàm
  St. Andrew of Phú Yên19-20
A French member of the Young Christian Workers (Jocists), who emphasized service to the poor and their larger communities. After being conscripted into the army during World War II, he was arrested by the Gestapo due to his affiliation with the Jocists, perceived to be an outlawed order. He died in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria in 1945.
  Bl. Marcel Callo23
She is said to have practiced many austerities as reparation for sacrileges in the neighboring churches. She frequented the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, and it was observed that her piety increased on the approach of every feast of the Virgin Mary.
  St. Germaine Cousin22
An Italian member of the Pope John XXIII Community, she worked with the addicted and ill, with aspirations of joining medical missions in Africa. She was struck by a car on her way to a community meeting and succumbed to her injuries in the hospital a week later.
  Bl. Sandra Sabattini22
A pious child who had an often unpredictable temperament, she seemed transformed when she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite nun, for her sole ambition was to dedicate herself to the service of God. She fell ill to an aggressive disease, but was consoled knowing she would be able to make her profession before she died.
  St. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes19

Inspiring Young Saints of the Catholic Church

Most of us have probably heard of Joan of Arc, Therese of Lisieux, Pier Giorgio Frassati and other young people who impacted the Church with their devotion to the Catholic faith. But there are many other young people who are among the communion of saints, and although their lives were relatively short, they certainly were still meaningful. 
Here are five young Catholic beati and saints that you may not have heard of before, among them a young priest, the youngest-ever founder of a religious congregation and many more!

A Catholic priest, he was known for catechizing children and promoting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He was murdered by an armed militia who stormed his cathedral to enact the anti-Catholic Tejeda Law, having just baptized a child in an adjacent room.
  Bl. Dario Acosta Zurita22
The founder of the Little Sisters of the Mother of Sorrows, she is regarded as the youngest founder of a religious congregation in the history of the Catholic Church. She declined the married life in favor of leading a life dedicated to the needs of others.
  St. Clelia Barbieri23
Born to a professional family, he gave up ambitions of a secular career to enter the Passionist congregation. His life in the monastery was not extraordinary, yet he followed the rule of the congregation perfectly and was known for his great devotion to the sorrows of the Virgin Mary.
  St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows23
A Congolese member of the Sisters of the Holy Family, she entered the convent against her mother’s wishes and became devoted to teaching. She was killed during the country’s civil war during the Simba revolt after refusing a colonel’s sexual advances. She is the first Bantu Catholic to be beatified.
  Bl. Marie-Clémentine Anuarite23
After converting to Catholicism, he was beaten and chained by his Belgian colonist supervisors, ultimately succumbing to his injuries. He had a great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary that he expressed through recitation of the rosary and by being invested in the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
  Bl. Isidore Bakanja21-22

‘A piece of home’ in Greater Danbury

Young adult profile: Gabriela Pereira

BETHEL–2024 is already proving to be a big year for the Diocese of Bridgeport’s Brazilian Catholics. After many years of existing as a cultural apostolate and a “quasi-parish,” the community finally reached full parish status in January, taking on the name “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Aparecida Parish,” after the patroness of Brazil.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Aparecida is the first parish in the United States to be entrusted to Our Lady of Aparecida’s care, as well as the country’s first parish to serve a Brazilian Catholic community. It is also the first new parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport since 1985, when Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish was established in Danbury.

It’s an exciting time to be a Brazilian Catholic in the diocese, especially for Gabriela Pereira, one of the young adult ministry coordinators at Our Lady of Aparecida.

The parish’s young adult group is known as “Jovens Sem Fronteiras,” which is Portuguese for “Youth Without Borders.” Unlike many of the other young adult groups in the diocese, Jovens Sem Fronteiras is predominantly Portuguese-speaking. And according to Pereira, that helps ensure that the young adults feel like they belong, whether they were born in the United States or just arrived from Brazil yesterday.

“It’s very important for us to maintain that culture, where we speak Portuguese,” she said. “They’re away from their home country, so we want them to feel like they belong here as well, and that there’s somewhere for them to go where they feel like it’s a little piece of Brazil with them.”

With the growth of the Brazilian Catholic community in the diocese has come the growth of their various ministries. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Aparecida also became home to a youth group counterpart to Jovens Sem Fronteiras. And once the students age out of the youth group, many of them continue on as members of the parish’s young adult group.

As a member of the rapidly growing community, Pereira finds herself assisting at the parish in as many ways as she can. Not only is she one of the young adult ministry coordinators, she also sings in the parish choir, administrates its social media page and is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

Recently, Pereira was also elected president of her parish’s council. There’s a lot for her to do for her community, but to her, everything is worthwhile because it is done for God.

“I do what I can, and what I can give to God regarding my time,” she said. “That’s the little bit I can do for him. I make sure I give it to my parish.”

Among her fellow young adults, Pereira encourages them to devote their time to the parish in whatever ways they can, no matter how big or small.

“I have a community which I love tremendously, and I give all my time that I possibly can to my church,” she said. “I always encourage the young adults group to volunteer, even if they can help with the little things in the church. I think that gives you meaning, that makes you feel important. Some folks can’t donate money, but if you can give your time, I think that’s what God wants.”

Having grown up in the Brazilian Catholic community, Pereira said she has a particular devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida, the patroness of her parish and the country of Brazil. She also said after her parish recites the St. Michael Prayer after Masses, they will also recite a prayer to Our Lady of Aparecida, noting the Brazilian community’s particular devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Being Brazilian and a young adult are fundamental parts of Pereira’s identity. Both communities have received particular support from Bishop Frank Caggiano, for which she is infinitely grateful as they continue to flourish among the faithful.

“The bishop has said many times that young adults are not the future of the Church; they are the Church,” Pereira said. “I’m really inspired by the initiatives that the bishop has taken to include the young adults in the diocese. So I think that’s really important, and especially for the young adults to see how much he cares about the young adults of the Church. He doesn’t exclude us. He wants us to be included in everything. And even if someone thinks that the Church doesn’t care about the young, I think that’s a lie. It’s nice for me to see how much he cares about his church, about the future of his church and about the young adults.”

Young adult profile: Francisca Laguerre

ANSONIA–It’s not often that a faith journey leads you to a college bar. But for Fran Laguerre, that’s exactly where she ended up one October evening.

That night at the Seagrape Cafe happened to be the same night as greater Bridgeport’s Faith on Tap event. Hosted by Father Sam Kachuba from St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield, the talk focused on mental health and burnout. And although it was given to a group of young adults, Laguerre remembers that talk speaking to her.

Now, Laguerre is a regular at young adult Catholic events in the greater Bridgeport area, including monthly young adult Masses, Faith on Tap and service opportunities–which she cites as her favorite.

Laguerre was born in Haiti, where Catholicism and the church were integral parts of her life. In fact, she was named after St. Francis of Assisi. But after she moved to the United States with her family and started getting older, her connection to the church started to falter.

“Sometime in college, I just didn’t want to go anymore,” she said. “Nothing happened, but I would just pretend to oversleep, and eventually my mom got tired of trying to wake me up, and I just stopped going.”

But after college, Laguerre started wondering if there was something more. And she said there definitely was: in the young adult events she now finds herself attending often.

“It just opens me up to wanting to learn more about a faith I was raised in and raised by, but don’t really know very much of,” she said. “Coming here reminds me of that. It keeps me going. It keeps me wanting to go to church.”

Of all the events, Laguerre finds herself particularly drawn to service. She fondly remembers volunteering at a Breakfast with Santa for the students at St. Raphael Academy back in December.

She especially enjoyed “getting to see their excitement over something so small … I read somewhere that children let you re-experience everything through their eyes,” she said. “We’re looking at little coloring books like, ‘OK, I guess.’ But then you see how excited they are, and you get to re-experience and be grateful.”

With Lent quickly approaching, Laguerre views the upcoming weeks as a time to dive deeper into her faith. She especially wants to explore journaling as a form of prayer during that time.

“That’s usually my favorite form of prayer: writing things out,” she said. “Then I can come back to it and remind myself, ‘Hey, you said you wanted to read more, but you’ve made it through two seasons of whatever show, and yet no book has been opened.’ It’s a good way to go back into my thoughts.’”

However, Laguerre also finds time for prayer on walks, which she says “keeps (her) sane.” Originally, she would take her younger siblings with her or listen to music on those walks, but now, she tends to spend that time alone instead.

“I try to keep my walks as a time of clear mind,” she said. “I use it to just pray, think about the things I’m really grateful for. That’s something I’m really working on: listing things I’m grateful for before I start asking for things or noting things I don’t have.”

Laguerre says being a part of and supporting communities for young adult Catholics is important because she finds many people around her age are “spending time alone, but don’t want to.” And events for these young adult communities provide opportunities to connect with people who share the faith and many of the same experiences.

“First, it’s welcoming here,” she said. “We talk all the time about the stress, the isolation, the anxiety that young adults feel. But once you create that community … you’re meeting new people that you almost never would have otherwise, who are being taught to think about different things, and think beyond yourself.”

Young adult profile: Colin Petramale

STRATFORD—A cornerstone of Ignatian spirituality is finding God at work in all things, great and small. And it’s also a cornerstone in the life and work of Colin Petramale.

Petramale recently began a new role at the Diocese of Bridgeport as the Director of Discipleship for the five Catholic parishes in Stratford. A role that’s part of the Seton Collaborative, it gives him the opportunity to collaborate with the parishes in their respective ministries. In doing so, he recalled the words of Rowan Williams, the once-Archbishop of Canterbury, who said in ministry “it really helps if you actually believe in God.”

“I feel that way about ministry,” Petramale said. “It really helps if you actually believe in God, if you actually believe that ‘I’m not the author of life, but I’m given this life to share with other people’ … to lean on the wisdom of God’s people in the universal sense, to really determine how I can best minister in this world and how I can best find the face of Christ in everyone I encounter.”

In both his professional and personal life, he finds himself trying to see God at work in all things, especially in places we might not ordinarily look.

“Something that means a lot to me is trying to find God in the poor, and to act accordingly: to believe not only in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, but also in the Real Presence of Christ in the poor, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 25,” he said.

Petramale’s concern for the poor also stems from one of his favorite Church icons: Servant of God Dorothy Day. He admires Day’s devotion not only to Christ, but her devotion to social justice and serving God’s people—especially when it came to a key question faced by her Catholic Worker movement: should they give to the poor indiscriminately?

“Do we distinguish between the ‘deserving poor,’ as they’re known, who are maybe trying to work but things just aren’t working out for them, and the ‘undeserving poor,’ those who maybe don’t work or aren’t able to work?” he recalled. “And she decided that we give indiscriminately, that Jesus on the cross ultimately took away our privilege of deciding who was worthy and unworthy.”

Petramale also finds himself inspired by the work of St. Ephrem of Syria, a Doctor of the Church. According to Petramale, St. Ephrem distinguished himself from the other early Doctors of the Church because he didn’t write doctrine or logical arguments for the existence of God—he wrote poetry.

“He was this poet in the middle of early Church history when so much of what we consider to be settled doctrine now in the Church was being fought out in these very logical ways,” he said. “And Ephrem was like … ‘Hey guys, I get all the logical arguments, but come check out this

poetry I wrote, because it’s very beautiful , and maybe poetry helps us unlock the mystery of God in a way that logical arguments can’t quite do all the time.’”

As a young adult working in the Church, Petramale occupies an interesting position. He observed that even in a time where he and his young adult peers are seemingly more connected than ever, many have also never felt lonelier.

“Young adults are really in a time of increased isolation, because these wonderful phones we have can bring us so much, yet separate us from one another,” he said. “The statistics are really clear that young adults are more depressed than ever, more anxious than ever and lonelier than ever.”

Admittedly, Petramale said, he doesn’t have all the answers to solve these problems that young adults face. But he does think the Church offers something unique that can maybe begin to combat those difficult feelings of isolation.

“What the Church offers young people in particular is the body of Christ,” he said. “As a community of faith, we can share the hopes, dreams, joys and struggles that we all face, and we can come to know that we’re not alone.”


A year in review

Catholic203’s rookie year was one for the books! It’s been a busy year for us, but it’s also been one full of blessings. Let’s take a look at just a few of the highlights!

On Holy Saturday, 28 of our young adults volunteered at the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport, preparing lunch for the center’s guests, cleaning the grounds and sorting through donations. We’re looking forward to returning to the Merton Center next year–at their new location on State Street!
  April: Easter Day of Service
Catholic203, the Diocese of Bridgeport’s hub for young adult ministries, officially launched in May 2023. Since that launch seven months ago, the platform has amassed a wide following from the Diocese of Bridgeport and beyond. As of mid-December, we have over 700 recipients of our weekly and monthly newsletters and over 400 followers on Instagram.
  May: Official launch of Catholic203
Young adult leaders from the Diocese of Bridgeport and beyond gathered for a retreat at St. Cecilia Church in Stamford on June 24. The day began with Adoration and Mass with Bishop Caggiano, and included talks from Luigi Manente, coordinator of young adult outreach in the Archdiocese of New York; Father Sean Kulacz, pastor of Holy Family-St. Emery Parish in Fairfield; and Father Jean-Pierre Sion, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Shrub Oak, N.Y. Thanks again to Father John Connaughton, pastor of St. Cecilia-St. Gabriel Parish for his hospitality, and to Susan Baldwin for preparing and serving breakfast and lunch!
  June: Young adult leader retreat
Building on the success of the monthly young adult Mass in Stamford, Bridgeport hosted its first young adult Mass on July 19. Many thanks to Father Peter Lenox, rector of St. Margaret Shrine, for welcoming young adults from greater Bridgeport each month and for celebrating the first Mass! Both young adult Masses are still going strong; join us in Stamford on the second Wednesday of each month and in Bridgeport on the third Wednesday of each month!
  July: First young adult Mass in greater Bridgeport
Every two to three years, a worldwide gathering especially for young adult Catholics occurs: World Youth Day! For 2023’s celebration, 61 people from 24 parishes in 13 towns across the Diocese of Bridgeport completed the trek across the ocean to Lisbon, Portugal–including 24 young adults. There will be two more worldwide gatherings for young adults in the coming years: a Jubilee Year gathering in Rome in 2025, and the next World Youth Day, which will take place in Seoul, South Korea in 2027. Let’s see how many young adults will make a return trip!
  August: World Youth Day
Bishop Frank Caggiano’s annual Mass for Young Adults welcomed over 100 young adults from across the diocese to St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk on September 30. The annual event, organized by the Diocesan Young Adult Council, draws together young adult Catholics from all across the Diocese of Bridgeport for prayer, Mass and friendship. It also serves to encourage them to keep the faith close to their hearts in a time when many of their peers are not doing so. We’re looking to get even more young adults to attend next year’s Mass–stay tuned!
  September: Bishop’s young adult Mass
St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield welcomed young adults for a Night of Worship (NOW) event on October 27. The event, themed “Anxious Heart,” included a witness on overcoming anxiety, a Holy Hour with Adoration, Confession and praise and worship, and fellowship.
  October: Night of Worship
This November, the Diocese of Bridgeport designated seminarian formation and young adult ministries as the targets of its annual Giving Tuesday campaign. Thanks to everyone’s generosity, the campaign raised over $50,000!
  November: Giving Tuesday
Young adults from greater Bridgeport hauled out the holly for the annual Breakfast with Santa at Catholic Academy of Bridgeport’s St. Raphael campus! The day was filled with Christmas cheer for some of our diocese’s youngest members, including hot cocoa, a hot meal, crafts and a very special visitor from the North Pole: Santa!
  December: Breakfast with Santa at St. Raphael
The Catholic203 team is so grateful for your continued support in our inaugural year. And we’re not slowing down anytime soon. Keep your eyes peeled for old favorites and new traditions in 2024: Triduum worship opportunities and service events, the National Eucharistic Revival and Pilgrimage, Diocesan Youth Day, Bishop Frank’s annual young adult Mass, and so much more!

Pursuing ’emptiness’ in order to be filled

NORWALK—Being a person of faith between the ages of 18 and 29 isn’t exactly popular these days. In fact, according to the Associated Press, 43 percent of Americans in that age bracket identify as atheist, agnostic or with no religion in particular.

And yet, within that reality, there are beacons of hope for people of faith. And one of them was certainly present at the Annual Young Adult Mass and Social at St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk on September 30.

The annual event, organized by the Diocesan Young Adult Council, draws together young adult Catholics from all across the Diocese of Bridgeport for prayer, Mass and friendship. It also serves to encourage them to keep the faith close to their hearts in a time when many of their peers are not doing so.

“Young adults are not only the future of the Catholic Church, they’re also the present,” said Steven Velardo, chair of the Diocesan Young Adult Council. “Having a time when they can come together and pray and fellowship is truly invaluable to the Church and its future generations.”

One of the goals of the annual young adult Mass, of course, is to fill a church in the diocese with Catholics in their 20s and 30s to worship and fellowship together. But to Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, one of the goals of Christian life is quite the opposite: to empty.

That example, according to the bishop, was first set by Christ himself.

“The second person of the Blessed Trinity, when he entered creation, emptied himself of God: the glory and honor that is due to him by right since he is God himself,” the bishop said. “He willingly shed all so that he could take the frail, broken humanity you and I share not to crush it, but to caress it. Not to overwhelm it, but to accompany it in a perfect union in one person that is divine, so that he might, as St. Paul sings, live that humanity to exaltation.”

Similarly to Christ, the bishop said, Catholics are called to a certain type of emptiness in their lives. This is so they, like him, might be filled with the glory of God.

But how are they to do that, and of what are they meant to be emptied? First and foremost, Bishop Caggiano said, was that they should be emptied of their own sinfulness—including the sins that might be unknown to them. 

“That is why we gather together as sisters and brothers (in) friendship in Christ: so that those around us who love us can see what you and I cannot see in ourselves,” the bishop said. “We are to empty it out, to seek forgiveness of all that we have done so that we might be filled with grace.”

One of the other things the bishop said young adults should seek to empty out is the lie that we are the center of our lives.

“Discipleship in Christ is to recognize our rightful place, and to whom we owe the gratitude of our very existence and future,” Bishop Caggiano said. “And that’s an ‘empty,’ particularly in a world that wants us to be satiated until we choke.”

And how is that emptiness achieved? According to the bishop, the young adults gathering together in community and prayer was already part of the answer to that question.

“How much you encourage me and give me great hope,” he said. “You have gathered together as

young men and young women because you need each other—as I need you, and you need me—to walk this journey … For we are always tempted to take the place of God in our lives, but also to pray on our knees, so we might recognize that we need to be emptied in order to be filled. And what Christ gives us to be filled is far greater than anything this world can give us.” 

Photos’ credited to Owen Bonaventura Copyright © 2023 Owen Bonaventura

Celebrating Our Lady of the Rosary

October is the month of the Holy Rosary, largely due to the celebration of the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7. This beloved devotion to the Blessed Mother traces its origin as far back as the ninth century, cementing itself in the 13th century in a Marian apparition to St. Dominic.
Since then, praying the rosary has become an important practice to Catholics across the world, including here in the Diocese of Bridgeport. In celebration of the Memorial of Our Lady of Rosary, four of our young adults are showing off their favorite sets of rosary beads, as well as sharing the importance the rosary plays in their lives.

“My favorite rosary is actually the first one I remember receiving. One of my family friends gifted it to me for my First Communion; she actually made it for me! Since then, it’s always been my ‘emergency rosary.’ Having this rosary with me is a special reminder of how my faith continues to have an impact on every aspect of my life.”
  Lily, FairfieldA gift from a friend
“This rosary was found in the inside pocket of my grandfather’s World War II duffle bag about eight years ago. It’s clearly worn and must have been well-used during his military service from 1944 to 1945. I know nothing about it, since it was found years after he passed away, but I assume it was his main rosary during the war. Now it sits on my desk and is sort of my comfort rosary.”
  Bilal, Bridgeport‘Worn and well-used’
“My late grandmother received these beads while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and they are made out of Jerusalem olive wood. She was my first model of the faith, and as a child I saw her praying with these many mornings. She owned many pairs of rosary beads, but I think these were her favorites — and now they’re mine. Every time I pray with them, I pray in thanksgiving for her life and the example she set for me.”
  Rose, StratfordFor the faithful departed
“While in Fatima for World Youth Day this past summer, Our Lady led me to pick these rosary beads. She said they were small and precious — how I am to be before God — and that these beads would help me pursue this smallness and acknowledge how I am beloved before the Father.”
  Angelica, Ridgefield‘Small and precious’

Reimagining What Faith Can Do

BRIDGEPORT—For many years, St. Ambrose Parish was a beacon for the Italian Catholic community in Bridgeport. But after the parish unfortunately closed in the early 2010s, the campus was uncharacteristically quiet for many years following.

But only a few months ago, liveliness and hope returned to the parish grounds in the form of the Fairfield Bellarmine program. 

An academic program of Fairfield University, Bellarmine College provides a two-year, tuition-free Jesuit education to students from the Greater Bridgeport area, who will then either enter the workforce with an associate’s degree or pursue bachelor’s degrees at Fairfield or other area colleges. Students have the opportunity to choose academic tracks in the liberal arts, business, computer science or health studies.

As a consequence of the ever-evolving Catholic faith, sometimes old buildings need to be refitted for new purposes. This was the case for St. Ambrose’s main sanctuary, which had to be remodeled to house classrooms and other areas for its new students.

And in the former St. Ambrose Parish, old and new worlds truly collide. The classrooms have 21st-century technology and a sleek, contemporary feel. But in between classes, students make their way through the hallways, which still house the stained-glass windows and Stations of the Cross of the former parish.

Bellarmine’s inaugural Class of 2025 began classes in early September, and were there to celebrate the institution’s official ribbon-cutting event on Friday, September 15. 

Founded on Jesuit principles, the Bellarmine program is a first-of-its-kind program in Jesuit higher education. And Fairfield University hopes the program is the first of many across the United States.

“This is a momentous day for first generation, minority learners, and for working class academics on so many levels. It is momentous, it is revelatory and it is a day of manifestation,” said Dr. Pamela Tolbert-Bynum Rivers, Fairfield’s associate dean for academic affairs. “From this place of authentic care, on this holy hill that was consecrated more than 100 years ago by the people of St. Ambrose and the indigenous people before them, we bear witness to what our students bring to us. And to our students, know this: we see and we esteem the God-given gift of who you are and who you are becoming at Fairfield Bellarmine.”

Ana Aguirre, a student in Fairfield Bellarmine’s first cohort, addressed her fellow students and those gathered for Fairfield Bellarmine’s ribbon cutting ceremony. She expressed her gratitude for the program, noting how it could change the lives of many young people who call the greater Bridgeport area home.

“This campus is dear to me because it represents progress, education and opportunity,” Aguirre said. “It shows how education can change lives. I extend a heartfelt thanks to Fairfield University, the Diocese of Bridgeport and to our partners who turned this vision into a reality.”

Teacher by day, youth minister by night: Meet Katrina Pesta

NORWALK—Whether it’s in the classroom or in the parish, Katrina Pesta brings her Catholic faith to everything she does.

But while her day job as a middle school teacher isn’t at a Catholic school, Pesta still integrates essential aspects of her faith into her work, reminding her to look at each student through the lens of Christ.

“My Catholic faith always reminds me how to be kind, patient and accepting in my day-to-day life,” she said.

Pesta is also the youth minister at St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk, where she’s also a parishioner. This dual role of teacher and coordinator has positioned her at the crossroads of education and faith, making her an integral part of the young adult community in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

But while her ministry is focused on younger Catholics, Pesta still sees the importance of supporting Catholics beyond their years in school. She particularly observes two major times when younger Catholics tend to walk away from their faith: post-Confirmation and post-high school.

“The Diocese of Bridgeport has a network of young adults that are on fire, but also struggle to deal with balancing their career and faith,” she said. “By building up young adult ministry in the diocese, members of the community see that there is a way to live by their faith but also participate in the ‘typical’ activities that young adults prioritize.”

Pesta describes her relationship with her Catholic faith as a very personal one. She says she looks to the Lord to guide her in her everyday life, and that means how she lives out the faith might look different from day to day — especially when it comes to service.

“Of course I attend Mass every Sunday but I also feel like God’s purpose for me is to serve others,” she said. “Sometimes that means organizing a service project for my youth group but sometimes it just means that I need to listen to those around me and serve them in that moment. Standing up for those who may not have a voice or the confidence to use it allows me to consistently put my faith in action and walk as a disciple.”

Pesta often finds herself turning to the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. To her, it’s a reminder that she can bring forth good in the world through service, which can also help her see past darkness. She also has a deep devotion to St. Maximilian Kolbe and — like any good Catholic teacher — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Teaching and ministering to young people takes up quite a bit of Pesta’s time. But when she’s not working with youth, she loves reading, going to the beach and spending time with her dogs. She also loves live music and describes herself as a “diehard Swiftie.”

Service is a common theme in how Pesta lives out the Catholic faith. But she’s also adamant about sharing the “universal” aspect of the universal Church.

“I really want young adults to understand that there is a place for everyone in the Church,” she said. “Especially in the Diocese of Bridgeport, the bishop makes such an effort to embrace everyone. As a Church, we need to do the same to grow our faith and our love for each other.”

Diocese delegation visits World Youth Day in Lisbon

BRIDGEPORT—It may have taken place a year later than anticipated, but now it’s in the books: the Diocese of Bridgeport sent a group of 61 people from 24 parishes in 13 towns across Fairfield County to attend World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Originally created by Pope St. John Paul II as an opportunity for young people “to search for an encounter with God, who entered the history of mankind through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ,” this year’s World Youth Day was  the 16th such celebration. The first World Youth Day took place in Rome in 1986.

Subsequent World Youth Days have taken place every two to three years, in cities across the world, in 13 different countries across five continents. Italy, Spain and Poland have each hosted two World Youth Days, while Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Panama, the Philippines and the United States—and now Portugal—have hosted one each.

At the conclusion of this year’s World Youth Day celebration, Pope Francis mentioned two upcoming celebrations for young people in the Church. First was the upcoming Jubilee Year, which will take place in Rome in 2025. The second was the next World Youth Day, which will take place in Seoul, South Korea in 2027.

The Diocese of Bridgeport has a history of sending a delegation to World Youth Day, including to more recent celebrations in Panama City and Krakow, Poland. The latter delegation, sent to World Youth Day in 2016, consisted of more than 300 pilgrims—the largest in the diocese’s history.

This year’s delegation to Lisbon was smaller—11 teenagers, 24 young adults, 10 seminarians, five priests, one religious sister and 10 adults—but that doesn’t mean they’re inexperienced. According to Dr. Patrick Donovan, director of the Institute for Catholic Formation and the diocesan pilgrimage director, the delegation’s leaders have nearly 30 years of ministry experience and World Youth Day attendances under their belts, from the 1993 gathering in Denver to the most recent one in Panama City in 2019.

One of the delegation’s leaders is Susan Baldwin, who has many years of youth and young adult ministry to her name. She’s been to World Youth Day celebrations in Panama City and Krakow, and just made her third World Youth Day Trip to Lisbon.

One thing that particularly strikes Baldwin each time she attends World Youth Day is seeing the unity among the young people—drawn together by their faith in the universal Church.

“It is amazing to see youth from around the world praying together, singing together (and) sharing their wares that they deliberately bring to trade,” she said. “They share their cultures, take photos together and eat together. They go to catechesis, they visit churches and, yes, they do have fun.”

While Baldwin is a World Youth Day veteran, there is one moment from the 2016 celebration that has stayed with her throughout the years.

“The most profound moment I will never forget is seeing thousands of youth on their knees in Blonia Park, Poland receiving the Eucharist at the celebration of Mass offered by Pope Francis,” she said. “The silence and reverence was palpable, and nothing else mattered in the world while everyone silently approached the presence of our Lord and Savior to receive him and stayed on their knees to pray.”

Father Christopher Ford, the diocese’s director of vocations and seminarians, was another delegation leader. Like Baldwin, this will be his third World Youth Day, having attended previously in Panama City and Krakow.

Father Ford first experienced World Youth Day in Krakow as a seminarian. One memory that sticks out to him is the day he had the opportunity to visit both the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, where Christ appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska.

To put those two experiences together, the power of mercy triumphing over the power of evil, set a tone for the rest of the journey that would not be soon forgotten,” he said.

His second trip to World Youth Day in Panama City occurred on the precipice of his priestly ordination. And seeing people from all over the world really reinforced his desire to be a part of the Church as a Catholic priest.

“As I stepped into the final phases of my preparation for priesthood, I did so with a new energy that came from knowing that all around me and all around the world, people’s hearts are yearning for Jesus – something that I experienced firsthand surrounded by thousands of young adults from all around the world united in prayer and adoration,” Father Ford said. 

Young Adult Profile: Paola Pena

FAIRFIELD—Small groups are becoming the name of the game in the Diocese of Bridgeport. And there’s perhaps no bigger proponent of them around than Paola Pena.

Pena is the Director of Evangelization at St. Pius X Parish. She originally worked in youth ministry for the parish, but noticed there was a lack of outreach to Catholics over the age of 18. And so she began her current work, making sure people could find smaller groups within their parish community.

Within this adult demographic, of course, are young adults in their 20s and 30s. And thanks to Pena’s work with the parish, young adults in the greater Fairfield area are being spiritually nourished through the Young Adult Ministry in Fairfield.

“I really believe that young adults were looking for community, but in a more intimate space, giving them the space to really feel known and vulnerable,” Pena said.

There are two main flagship events for the young adult ministry. It offers an Adoration and fellowship event on the second Friday of each month, where they can gather for praise and worship. It’s an ideal environment for young adults who want to gather with people their age, but might not be ready for a small group environment yet.

Plus, Pena added, Adoration might be an ideal place for young Catholics to be rejuvenated in a world that is draining and constantly demands their attention.

“The world is exhausting and you just need a space to realize that there’s more,” she said. “The draw, honestly, is that it’s just you and Jesus. When you can place yourself before him, everything in your life seems to make a little bit more sense. And you recognize you’re not alone.”

The Young Adult Ministry in Fairfield also offers biweekly small groups devoted to studying books about Catholic spirituality or with Catholic themes. These small groups give people the opportunity to draw closer to each other, sharing their desires, vulnerabilities and fears in a safe, faith-based setting.

The idea of leading a small group might be daunting, but Pena encourages anyone who even has a remote desire to lead one to jump headfirst into it.

“If you’re passionate about a particular topic or a book, just go with it, and chances are someone else is interested in it,” she said. “I really leave it up to the group leader to pray through what God is doing in their heart right now, and how he wants them to move in a particular space, and invite others to walk with them on that journey.”

In her own faith life, Pena is particularly drawn to sacred Scripture. She says studying the Bible helps combat “spiritual amnesia,” and when we read Scripture, we often recognize God has already been talking to us.

“The Sacrament and the Word need to go together,” she said. “And when I allow myself to be fed through the Word of God in Scripture and through private prayer, it actually really increases my own experience at Mass.”

Young adult ministry continues to grow in the Diocese of Bridgeport. And that trend is extremely encouraging to those both serving and being served by those ministries—including Pena.

“What I love about what’s happening is seeing the diversity of the Holy Spirit moving,” she said. “All these different groups are kind of niched to a very particular kind of outreach, but when you look at it as a whole, I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is the Holy Spirit.’ It’s really awesome to see how the Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to move, and also how diverse he is, inspiring all these different groups across the diocese to lead people to the Father.”

Young Adults Come Together in Faith and Fellowship at Annual Retreat


STAMFORD—Gathering young adults from across Fairfield County together is no mean feat. But when it does happen, it’s a cause for celebration and reflection. And that was exactly the tone for the annual Young Adult Leaders Retreat on June 24 at St. Cecilia-St. Gabriel Parish.

The day began with Adoration and Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. He noted the retreat was taking place on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, one of God’s greatest saints. According to the bishop, St. John the Baptist faced plenty of pushback in his ministry because of his desire to follow Christ—an obstacle many of the young adults gathered would face in their own faith journeys and ministries.

The bishop also reminded the young adult leaders that leadership itself was sacrificial, yet joyful. Nevertheless, he said, their faith was not something that could only be lived joyfully within the four walls of a church. It was something to be shared with others.

Bishop Caggiano then asked the young adult leaders to keep three questions in mind as they progressed through the day: what was their greatest hope for their work? What was their greatest fear, and how would they face it? And finally, what did they need right now to do what Christ was calling them to do.

The day kicked off with a talk from Luigi Manente, a coordinator of young adult outreach for the Archdiocese of New York. The talk, entitled “Welcoming People to Jesus,” emphasized the importance of recognizing the human dignity in others, beginning with asking for and remembering names. After all, Manente said, a name is representative of the dignity of the one who bears it.

He also reminded the young adult leaders that God calls everyone by name. And by doing so, he sanctifies everyone’s names. Therefore, it should be their goal to see others as God sees them, and to remember that they, too, are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Following Manente’s talk, the young adults were joined by Father Sean Kulacz, pastor of Holy Family-St. Emery Parish in Fairfield. Father Kulacz’s talk, “Find Your Purpose,” invited the young adults to invite the Holy Spirit into their lives and their ministries.

Father Kulacz encouraged them to pray a prayer of surrender, to give up their need for control and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide them. Control, he said, was the biggest obstacle to freedom. Control was the root of impatience, and the root of control was pride.

“If you pray a prayer of surrender, you can run, but you can’t hide,” Father Kulacz joked. “You’re getting the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

After lunch, Manente returned with Angelica Bakhos, the Diocese of Bridgeport’s assistant director of campus ministry. In a panel discussion, both offered their input on building vibrant and lasting young adult ministries.

Integral to building ministries that last, they said, was building relationships with others. God set an example by sharing his life with us, so we could share our lives with him and with others.

Manente and Bakhos noted the leaders might feel pressure to be the perfect “superstar Catholic” just by virtue of being leaders. But being a superstar Catholic wasn’t as important as simply being there for others seeking encounter with God,

Closing out the day was Father Jean-Pierre Sion, who reminded the young adults of the power of the Holy Spirit in all of their endeavors. As a result, it was essential for them to lead their ministries with the Holy Spirit.

Father Sion said that there was a key ingredient to leadership: humility, which he called the “twin of charity.” And in order to be effective leaders, the young adults needed to humble themselves before God and before those they are leading.

“We’d be living in a better world if all of us were humble,” Father Sion said. “And yet, the world is attracted to humility and forgiveness.”

The day ended with a closing prayer, and a reminder for the young adult leaders: prayer was essential to their ministries’ success. And it was essential to pray not only for their ministries, but for their fellow young adult leaders to grow in faith and fellowship with each other.

Catholic203 would like to extend its sincerest gratitude to Father John Connaughton for his hospitality in hosting the Young Adult Leaders Retreat at St. Cecilia-St. Gabriel Parish; Bishop Frank J. Caggiano for celebrating Mass and for his support of young adult ministries in the Diocese of Bridgeport; speakers Luigi Manente, Father Sean Kulacz, Father Jean-Pierre Sion and Angelica Bakhos for sharing their wisdom with our retreatants; and Sue Baldwin for preparing and serving breakfast and lunch for our young adult leaders. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Young Adult Profile: Dr. Sarita Soares

NEW HAVEN–Catholic education can lay a moral foundation that will last a lifetime. And no one is a truer testament to that than Dr. Sarita Soares, an internist and addiction medicine specialist at Yale New Haven Hospital.

As a doctor, Soares’ educational journey was longer than most, starting in Danbury at St. Peter School. She continued her Catholic education at Immaculate High School in Danbury and at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit college in Pennsylvania.

Soares then attended the University of Connecticut Medical School and did her residency at Yale University, joining its faculty afterwards. But even in a secular school and work setting, her foundation in Catholic education remained strong.

“We have a responsibility to use the gifts that were given to us by God to really try to foster community (and) reach out to those who are in our surroundings to help them in different ways,” Soares said. “We all have different gifts, and we are called to use them to help the people around us.”

Soares had been interested in pursuing medicine since she was young, but had doubts about that path as well. She attributes the decision to become a doctor to her participation in an Ignatian retreat while she was in college.

“I really felt like it was the Holy Spirit saying, ‘You know you have an interest, you have the talents, why are you fighting this?’” she said. “That, I think, really prompted me into applying to medical school. And even throughout the process, there were many times when I had doubts. And every time I had those doubts, I felt like something above me facilitated me being successful.”

Originally, Soares wanted to be a pediatrician because she loved children, but then found herself drawn to the problem-solving aspect of internal medicine.

“One of the gifts that was really fostered, especially through college, was the use of our God-given intellect to reason through problems,” she said. “I also felt like it was an opportunity to demonstrate some of those (Catholic) virtues, in terms of compassion and outreach.”

However, Soares did not necessarily see herself pursuing an addiction medicine specialty. But in the midst of an opioid epidemic in a facility with a robust addiction medicine program like Yale, she gradually began pursuing that additional specialty.

According to Soares, many of the patients she works with in her addiction medicine specialty can be particularly vulnerable and marginalized, and are in particular need not only of physical healing, but care and kindness as well.

‘They’re a population that people try to shy away from, and yet they are some of the people that need the most help,” Soares said. “If I could get some tools by educating myself, that’s a population of patients I can show empathy and compassion, using the gifts God has given me to help a group of people I wouldn’t necessarily run into on a day-to-day basis.”

Every new day at work gives Soares the opportunity to put her faith into meaningful action, especially in her interactions with patients. Each day will almost definitely involve practicing both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

“In addiction medicine, it’s a lot of helping people who are struggling with mental health crises, struggling with a sense of depersonalization and fragmented families, helping people who may have been imprisoned, helping people who are homeless, helping immigrants and refugees,” she said. “I think (helping) a lot of the populations that we’re called to help is very much a part of what I do.”

Catholic education was an integral part of Soares’ path to becoming a doctor. And while she is thankful that her family chose Catholic schooling for her K-12 education, it was nevertheless a decision with a certain sacrifice for her family. And because of the role Catholic education played in her own story, Soares is particularly enthusiastic about “paying it forward” for future generations to be educated and formed in the faith.

“There’s definitely the opportunity for us who have been graduates of Catholic schools to remember that even though paying tuition to a Catholic school might mean you can’t go on a glamorous vacation, the things that really matter in the future (are) those foundations of faith and virtue that will have long-lasting impacts in children’s lives,” she said.

Soares continues growing in her faith with other young adults and is the interim president of Young Catholic Professionals’ Fairfield County Chapter. YCP is an interdisciplinary mentorship and networking professional group rooted in Catholic virtue, social justice and virtue.

Dr. Soares’ statements in the above article are her own opinion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Yale New Haven Hospital, Yale School of Medicine or Yale Medicine.