by Greg Schwietz, President, Serra’s Council for the United States
Recent statistics cite a remarkable decrease in attendance at Mass of younger generation Catholics. Matt Zerrusen, president of Newman Connection, estimates that over 80% of young Catholics going to college stop actively practicing their faith by the time they graduate. At a recent conference, popular Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly estimated that 85% of young Catholics stop practicing their faith within seven years of being confirmed. Our own Holy Father, Pope Francis, during a recent speech at to a Rome parish addressing recently confirmed students, said, “Welcome to the Sacrament of Good-bye!”
One study found that the new generation of youth, those born after 1999 and labeled as Generation Z, now brings a new level of “Gospel ignorance” to their world, being the first generation to be raised by a large subset of Millennials self-identified as “the Nones” — those who claim no affiliation to formalized religion. The survey, sponsored by St. Mary’s Press (Winona, Minnesota, USA) and the well-respected Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), reports that large numbers of young Catholics simply drift away. No big issues, but they don’t like rules. It appears that this new world — the world of the Internet, smart phones and instant gratification — is becoming characterized by youth who can deal with more and more information, but lack wisdom and mentors. Whatever it is that they have and want, what they don’t seem to want is more religion.
Does anyone have any good news?
We as Serrans talk about activities that are meant to create and support a “culture of vocations,” but let’s not kid ourselves; we have a huge task ahead of us, and the odds against us (without God’s help) are monumental and getting worse. Considering the large number of digital impressions that a young person receives daily, the chances of quiet reflection to discern God’s sometimes “whisper call” becomes an increasingly foreign concept. I think it is important that future club programs invite knowledgeable speakers to address this looming “Catholic Crisis of the Young” and learn how today’s culture is challenging basic faith assumptions that were not present as recently as only a decade ago. Study the trends and learn from the experts, because if we are going to be successful in fostering religious vocations in the future, tomorrow’s priests and religious will be coming from an environment that is increasingly hostile to religion.
What else is a Serra Club to do? Well, we need to look no further than our own Serra SPARK website (www.serraspark.org) to see that Serrans sponsor and support a lot of vocations activities which nourish an early planted vocation seed, assist teachers and religious leaders, vocation directors, pastors and faithful parents to preserve that fundamental gift of faith, and mentor that young call. Below are a few of the many programs that Serra has either initiated or continues to support.
Early age activities: Studies indicate that young people question and search their faith as young as 11 years old. While some children can “lose” their faith at this young age, many others might be looking to deepen it. Focus 11 is a diocese-wide program that presents the options of religious life and priesthood to young people at age 11, and again at Grade 11 (normally 17 years old in the U.S. school system). The concept is sound: present a positive vocations message when the interest is high. Age 11 and Grade 11 are two important times for those questions to be answered.
In addition to Focus 11, very popular religious themed summer vacation programs for boys and/or girls include Totus Tuus, Quo Vadis Days, and simply “Summer Boys Camp.” These fun, yet spiritual retreats/vacations are an excellent blending of outdoor recreation and Catholic faith experiences for both grade school and high school youth. Many of our dioceses report that these week-long experiences result in a fruitful reflection that is age appropriate for the attending youth, and yield vocations in the future.
College age activities: Another successful national program that Serra supports is the annual round-up of the names of graduating high school seniors through Newman Connection outreach. Even though reported many times in past editions of the Serran Magazine, you may not realize the impact of this Serra-founded program, once called College Connection, which is now entering its 10th year. Last year alone, Newman Connection gathered the names of nearly 70,000 graduating high school seniors and connected them with Newman Clubs and Catholic campus ministries around the country. The purpose is noble, its execution is simple: Connect young people early in their college careers with active youth ministry programs on campus and in so doing, keep the Catholic faith growing during those critical, searching and formative years.
Most recently, the USA Council Vocations Committee added a new activity to www.serraspark.org centered around hosting a graduating Mass for high school seniors, commissioning them into future life, underscoring the importance of their faith foundation. While indirect in its intent toward a life of service as a priest or consecrated religious person, these activities keep the flame of faith alive for tens of thousands of young Catholics during critical times during their young lives.
The math is irrefutable. If we want to insure both full church pews AND pastors to lead them, our mission includes supporting activities which keep the faith alive in our young.
New challenges always bring new opportunities. Keep moving forward. With confidence. With Christ.
Contact President Schwietz at firstname.lastname@example.org