April 13, 2018


Listen to young people

We must listen to our young people. How else can the Catholic Church learn how they think about religion as they are maturing and will soon be starting families?

Ever since Pope Francis announced that the next Synod of Bishops in October will tackle the topic “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment,” meetings have been held to prepare for it. Some of the data coming from those meetings indicate clearly that the pope was wise to select the topic because there is a crisis in the Church among young people.

One of those meetings was in Rome on March 19-25. It brought together 305 young adults, plus some 15,000 who participated through Facebook. Another was held at the University of Notre Dame on March 5-7 where more than 500 young adults and 20 bishops learned what is happening to young people.

What is happening is that many young people are leaving the Church. And, as one important study showed, the median age at which young people stop self-identifying as Catholic is 13. This is alarming. It shows that our ministry to youths, beginning with middle schoolers, is failing.

The final document of the gathering organized by the Vatican said, “We need a Church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards.”

Those who participated in the meeting, and prepared the document, are very active in the Church. They were appointed by their national bishops’ conference or by Catholic movements to which they belong. They are not just rebellious young people who want change for change sake, but people who are seriously concerned about their Church and its future.

All young people today are affected by our secular society, and especially by social media; most of them have had smartphones since childhood. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they have opinions that don’t always mesh with the teachings of the Church. Nevertheless, the document from the meeting at the Vatican says that “young Catholics whose convictions are in conflict with official teaching still desire to be part of the Church.”

And they should be. But the Church should be finding ways to help young Catholics better understand and embrace Catholic teaching. The document itself notes that “many Catholics accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity, but to also proclaim them with greater depth of teaching.”

This should be done concerning the Church’s teachings about homosexuality, for example. We need to show people that God’s gift of sex should be used only in marriage between a man and a woman because of the complementarity of men and women. However, we also must not discriminate against those who have a same-sex orientation. These teachings are widely misunderstood, or rejected.

Too often young people—and older people as well—think that they understand what the Church teaches, but they don’t. They can learn if we can get to them. As Bishop Robert E. Barron said in his keynote address at that meeting at Notre Dame, if students are ready to read Shakespeare, they can read Augustine. Today’s young people are intelligent.

That’s one reason why we should listen to them. Another is that most of them are compassionate. They are quick to recognize injustices wherever they take place—from the killing of babies in the womb to the deportation of young adults brought here illegally as minors by their parents and who have lived here most of their lives. They object to discrimination against people who are gay and sexual harassment against women.

So does the Catholic Church. In many ways, the Church and young people are on the same page. They tend to support both pro-life issues and pro-justice issues, and so does the Church.

But, obviously, many young people don’t realize that, or they wouldn’t be leaving the Church in droves.

We will be hearing more about meetings leading up to the synod. We can be sure that the young people will tell it like it is. We must listen.

—John F. Fink

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