As one parish priest bluntly put it: ‘I am burying an awful lot of my parishioners and I don’t know how I am going to replace them’.
Not that this is anything new – we have been talking about the need to get young people into the pews for decades now. It’s just that as every day passes, the problem becomes more urgent.
We can be tempted to look at ways to make parish life and liturgy more ‘fun’ and appealing to young people, but that’s not necessarily the answer according to Charlie, a 20-year-old pastoral coordinator with one of our parishes and a participant at the assembly.
Charlie is married to a 22-year-old Catholic convert from the Baptist Church and she has eight younger siblings who all attend Mass. So she is well-versed to speak about young people and the faith. She told her ‘small group’ at the assembly that young people had enough ‘fun’ in their lives already, too much perhaps. And whatever ‘fun’ the Church has to offer is probably not going to top the kind of stuff they do outside the Church.
Charlie also said her husband had experienced the ‘fun’ approach of the Baptist Church but preferred the richness and depth of the Catholic faith and liturgy.
Two things spring to mind from her comments – one is that we need to be careful about change for the sake of change when there are plenty of people who find great solace and hope from our rituals and traditions.
Secondly, it’s probably much easier going to Mass with a heap of brothers and sisters than on your own. But relying on couples having eight or more children to solve the problems of the Church is unrealistic to say the least.
What it does mean is that parents are more likely to take their children to Mass if there are other families there – safety in numbers but more importantly a sense of normalcy. In the ‘old days’ families wanting to go to Mass didn’t have to compete with weekend sport, dining out, shopping and the myriad of other activities now available on the Sabbath.
That meant there was a strong social element to worship with children running around the carpark after Mass and parents chatting at length about the footy or cricket before eventually going home to do some gardening or house chores.
We can’t replicate that now, we can’t go back in time, but we can tap into a very basic human need to be part of a community.
Our small diocesan primary schools are experts at giving students and families a sense of belonging and community. But how do we integrate this with parish life?
At the assembly I heard stories of some parishes and schools organising family weekend Masses at which each child in the class had a ‘job’ to do. This meant the parents ‘had’ to take them, with benefits flowing to both the school families and the regular, more elderly parishioners.
This is just one of many ideas on this topic thrown around at the assembly – large youth gatherings in deaneries with a focus on music, overseas immersion programs and parish-based sports activities and teams were others.
I have often thought that it would be great to see a blessing or two at a Catholic intercollegiate or old scholars sporting event to remind students past and present of the importance of giving thanks to God and praying for the safety and wellbeing of players.
For some young people, it might be a social justice program run by the parish or migrant community that brings them back to the liturgy and the Eucharist. Mercy Links is a great example of harnessing the energy and passion of young people to respond to ‘the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’.
There is not going to be a one-fix solution to the problem of encouraging families and young people to follow their baptismal call. For each individual they will have a different view of how the Church can be authentic in their lives.
The great thing about the Diocesan Assembly is that it provided an opportunity for parishes, communities and schools to talk about what they are doing, or not doing, and to use this information to identify and develop strategies at a diocesan level that can support them.
As Fr Dean Marin and Fr Denis Travers CP both said during the assembly, we have to be confident that the Catholic faith has something to offer and be prepared to share and teach it. And as the wise-beyond-her-years Charlie told her group, we have to take up the challenge ourselves; it’s not up to someone else, it’s up to each one of us.Jump to next article