Reaching young people who no longer pray or attend church

[Jack Valero] Look around any congregation at Mass in the UK and there’s one group that’s largely absent – young people. After Confirmation they simply disappear and may or may not return when they get married and have a family of their own.

This week 300 young people from across the world are in Rome to debate the issues and prepare a document that will be presented at the Synod of Bishops convoked by Pope Francis for next October on the topic of ‘Youth, faith and vocational discernment.’ On Monday 19th March the Pope spent the morning with them.

Pope Francis sits among the young people during the pre-synod meeting on 19 March

“Too often we talk about young people without asking what they think,” Pope Francis stated, adding that “even the best analysis on the world of youth, although useful, are no substitute for the need to meet face to face.” There are those who tend to “idolize youth, hoping it will never end,” and others who prefer to keep the young people “at a safe distance,” rather than allowing them to be protagonists of their own futures.

“In the Church this must not be the case,” he said, and “this pre-synod meeting should be a sign of something big: the desire of the Church to listen to many young people, where nobody is excluded.”

This is not just a problem for the UK – a report published today jointly by the Institut Catholique in Paris and the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion And Society based at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, uses European Social Survey data to explore rates of religious affiliation and practice among young adults (16-29 year olds) across 22 countries in Europe.

It is required reading for anyone concerned with the future of faith communities across Europe. Among its key findings are:

  • The proportion of young adults with no religious affiliation (‘nones’) is as high as 91% in the Czech Republic and as low as 17% in Poland. In the UK it is 70%.
  • Around 60% of British, Spanish, Dutch and Belgian young adults ‘never’ attend religious services. And around 65% of British young adults ‘never’ pray.
  • The percentage of 16-29 year-old identifying as Catholic varies between 82% for Poland, down to single digits for Scandinavian countries. In the UK it is 10%.
  • Only 2% of Catholic young adults in Belgium, 3% in Hungary and Austria and 6% in Germany say they attend Mass weekly. In the UK, it is 17%.
  • 21% of British young adults identify as Christian: 7% as Anglicans compared to 6% as Muslims.

Angela Markas an Australian delegate in Rome this week said, “Young people are not satisfied with simple answers, or with answers that their parents gave them. Young people are seeking depth. We want, and are able, to understand the complexity of it all and be able to have a voice.”

Prior to the meeting 150,000 young people answered a questionnaire about their hopes, needs and concerns about the Church and issues in their everyday lives.

The Pontiff mentioned that he had been able to read some of the emails answering the questionnaire sent by the young people for the meeting, and was moved “by the call of some of the young people to the adults to remain near them and help them with the important decisions in their lives.”

Inviting attendees to express themselves “frankly and freely” the Pope finished his address emphasizing, “That’s why we need you young people, living stones of a Church with a young face.”


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