Among the topics discussed at the U.S. bishops’ spring assembly June in Baltimore was how to attract young people with no religious affiliation — the “nones” — back to the Church.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, told the bishops that half of Catholics 30 years old and younger have left the Church. He added this sobering statistic: for every one person joining the Church today, at least six are leaving. Most are headed for the door at a young age, too — primarily before the age of 23.
This isn’t the first time this conversation has occurred. Last October, the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops on young people said that the Catholic Church and its members must get better at listening to young people, taking their questions seriously, recognizing them as full members of the Church, patiently walking with them and offering guidance as they discern the best way to live their faith.
Pope Francis said that many young people want to know and understand the teachings of the Church and, despite what many people think, they long for and need times of silent reflection and opportunities to serve their communities.
“A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum,” Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation, “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”). “How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people?”
Pope Francis also urged parishes and dioceses to rethink their young and young adult programs and to make changes based on what young people themselves say they want and need.
While Church leaders are speaking about the importance of retaining young people, they’ve been criticized for not listening to the right people — or listening at all. In response to the bishops’ discussion in Baltimore, Greg Hillis, an associate professor of theology at Bellarmine University, took to Twitter, writing, “lay theologians have become used to not being consulted by bishops, but when many of us teach 100s of young people every year — all of whom talk to us *exactly* why they’re leaving the Church — & we’re *still* not consulted, it’s more than a little disheartening.”
Other young people responded on social media saying that they just simply want the bishops to speak directly to them and not assume to know what they need to grow in faith. This is a call for all of us — bishops, priests, religious and laity — to exercise humility and listen to young people in order to meet them where they are. Generational differences have widened the gap of compassion and understanding.
So what can we do? Beyond the conversation, we are called to invest in the young Church. The archdiocesan Catholic Youth Apostolate provides exceptional programming through CYC Sports, Young Adult Ministry, Office of Youth Ministry and REAP Team. It also serves as a resource to help parishes build strong outreach efforts to young people. Groups such as the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, Life Teen and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry are solid examples of others that are keeping young people engaged in their faith.
More than 100 teens and others on Project Life, a weeklong service retreat hosted by the archdiocesan Youth Ministry Office, as featured in this week’s paper, is just one example of how young people are using the summer months in particular to grow in relationship with Christ and serve their community. Also highlighted in this week’s paper is advice for college students on remaining active in the faith during the summer months, while away from campus.
Next month, more than 9,500 teens will convene in Springfield, Mo., for the annual Steubenville STL Mid-America youth conference, where they will encounter Christ through the sacraments, music, speakers, small group discussions and fellowship with other teens. For young adults, ongoing programs include the Discipulus Institute faith formation program, Emmaus Groups, which offers faith building in small groups, and Theology on Tap, a popular monthly social gathering to learn about topics relevant to young Catholics.
These are just a few of the many examples in which the Archdiocese of St. Louis is invested in our young Church. We must remain committed to listening to our young people and offering them the resources they need to grow in their faith.