Do young people get cold shoulder in our churches?

Isabella McCafferty from the Archdiocese of Wellington, New Zealand, speaks during a Vatican news conference June 18 , 2019. She was one of more than 280 young people from 109 countries joining a post-synod Youth Forum  at the Vatican June 19-22. She is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/Robert Duncan) See VATICAN-YOUTH-FORUM June 18, 2019.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholic young adults felt the hierarchy started listening to them in preparation for the 2018 synod of bishops on young people, and they will do whatever they can to make sure their voices continue to be heard, said a youth minister from New Zealand.

“May we be bold”, was the wish expressed by Isabella McCafferty from the Archdiocese of Wellington at a Vatican
news conference on June 18.

Miss McCafferty was one of more than 280 young people from 109 countries set to take part in a post-synod youth forum in June.

The Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life asked bishops’ conferences around the world to identify two young adult leaders to participate in the forum, being held at a retreat centre just south of Rome.

Schonstatt Fr Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the dicastery, told reporters, “There is always a risk that after a
big event people lose enthusiasm, move on to the next thing”, but Pope Francis and the dicastery are serious about not letting that happen.

“The synod on young people is in its realisation phase,” he said. “There is still much to be done”, and the forum was designed to continue that conversation with young adults who are experienced in reaching out to their peers.

Miss McCafferty told the Catholic News Service: “Young people want the Church to give them room to be involved. So, yes, they want their voice heard, but they also want to be part of the things that happen after that”, actually implementing changes.

Involving young people in sharing the Gospel message in ways that are relevant and make sense to them and to their peers, for example, through the use of social media, is especially important, she said.

Young people also are deeply committed to protecting the environment, she said, and they want to be involved in the efforts of the Church to reduce its impact on the environment and to promote respect for God’s creation.

Most of all, she said, young people are looking for “an authentic Church”.

“Authenticity is about transparency, it’s about vulnerability at times, but it’s also about ground level, about being community,” Miss McCafferty said.

“Rather than always thinking of the Church as this thing that happens in Rome, it’s about what it means to be Church in our local area”, and it always involves “person-to-person contact”.

When a young adult goes to a parish church regularly for months and only one person talks to him or her — it happens, she said — it tells that young adult that an authentic, caring community does not exist there.

“Young people don’t feel particularly welcome” in many church communities, she said.

“Young people are looking for an encounter with each other, with the Church and with the sacraments, but it needs to happen in relevant ways for them”, which involves a willingness to “interlink with each other more and holding each other up”.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Bruce Jones says

    Thank you for raising the issue.
    Yes, it is a perennial problem.
    Every parish has a duty, ongoing, to use groups such as Taize, YCS, YCW, Schoenstatt, and the like as a deliberate attempt to keep alive the optimism of young people, and their important role in building families, so easily forgotten, instead with the focus on making money out of mortgages, that so often cripples their interest in family building. This callous disregard has immediate effects on the Judeo-Christian birthrate- or if you like the Catholic birth-rate.
    When youth leave the church, it means living out an alternative relationship, so often without parental support.
    They are targeted by the many distractions, from porn pushers to drug pushers, and politicians deliberately try to delude them and entice them.
    It is not a crutch they seek, but integrity in their own church. It is simply called “the faith”.
    Or for those more committed, a personal Jesus in those they meet.

  2. Wayne McTague says

    Couldn’t agree more. Drop the posturing, the language and the push to always do things the way they have been done.For Gods sake stop taking the moral high ground stance and lecturing. Show some respect! We are all sinners, we are in this together, no-one is better than anyone else. Do you get it?

  3. Greg says

    The religious orders and dioceses who founded schools and colleges in this nation will be surprised that all the time and treasure, their entire lives, which they invested in hope is interpreted as a “cold shoulder”. Quite a dishonor to our whakapapa also who build the schools and parishes.

    As a 40-year old, I’m young enough to remember this same “youth” narrative as a “youth” from the turn of the millennium . That also makes me old enough to recognize that the Church hasn’t done what it has always done for quite some time and also recognize the straw-men and tropes of my elders, “always onward, no revisionists, relevance, never look back!”

    As a bright-eyed 20-year old in 2000, just before the Boston-global sex scandal, it was painfully obviously that the supposedly youth-focused (?) university chaplaincy had no intention of opposing the secularism of the campus across the road. Now, 20 years later at the time of the Cardinal McCarrick scandal, and while we locally consider euthanasia and late-term abortion (imagine if the chaplain had stepped up 20-years ago?!), there’s little to suggest that our sentimental appeal to “youth” will help them resist the state let alone match the vision of Campion and Champagnet.

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