Only Christ will bring lapsed youth back

07 May 2008

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
World Youth Day 2008 could transform many youth who have been disconnected from the Church from as early as year six back into active Catholics, if an ongoing study’s early results prove fruitful.
A survey commissioned by WYD08 organisers and carried out by Associate Professor Ruth Webber and Dr Michael Mason of Australian Catholic University and Monash University’s Dr Andrew Singleton has found that the majority of pilgrims intending to attend WYD in Sydney in July are genuinely interested in learning more about their faith.
The survey was carried out via in-depth face-to-face interviews with teenagers from schools, university students and those in the workforce, and as one of the largest online surveys ever conducted in Australia.
It revealed that seeing the Pope, feeling part of a huge crowd united by shared beliefs and learning more about their faith are high on the participants’ priorities in anticipation of WYD08.
The online component opened on May 1 at with more than 160,000 intending pilgrims invited to have their say about WYD08, sharing why they are coming, what they hope for and details about their ‘style of spirituality’.
Findings from the first phase of the study also revealed that the event is drawing a significant number of young people who have not been much involved with their church in recent years.
The results surprised the researchers, who had previously carried out the study that resulted in the document on youth spirituality called “The Spirit of Generation Y” that painted a grim picture of youth participation.
“We were surprised that so many who we would have called ‘marginal Catholics’ due to very little involvement with their local church – probably from families of faith who have dropped out under peer pressure in secondary school from about year six – are taking another look, which is great.
“This presents a terrific opportunity for the Church to communicate to these youth a taste of the Gospel that might send them looking for more.”
He said the “Generation Y” study revealed that barely a fraction of youth living in any particular area are involved in their local church, “as any parish priest would know”, and said it is extremely positive that many youth who appear to be from families of faith are leaving the question open for the time being.
While hesitant to release findings of an ongoing survey as the results don’t necessarily reflect the majority of the youth actually attending WYD08, Dr Mason described it as a “very positive result”.
The survey will continue during and after WYD08. Early findings will be presented to WYD organisers in June and a more comprehensive overview will be completed next year.
“If youth have already drifted from the Church once they leave school, the most likely course they take is that they stay uninvolved,” Dr Mason said.
“It used to be that young women were more religious than men, so when young Catholic men and women got together she’d ‘sort him out’ spiritually, they’d have kids and christen them, and the Church would get a high ‘rate of return’ of young people when they got married.
“Now they marry and have kids later, and the girls that young men meet, if they are Catholic, are likely to be just as non-religious as they are. WYD08 is the last chance the Church has to connect with these young people, so it needs to be good.”
Dr Mason said the focus must not be to “get them to join an institution, it’s really got to be about Christ and the message and Gospel, and it’s got to come through to them in a way they can relate to”.