WYD pilgrims differ from Gen Y peers

21 Aug 2008

By The Record

Majority of WYD pilgrims “deeply committed Catholics”, extensive study reveals.


Katie Wu, 24, from Sydney, Australia, talks with Sister Cecilia Joseph of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville Tenn., at the Vocations Expo at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, July 18. Wu, who went on a retreat organized by the Dominica n sisters, said that she has a "strong calling to be a consecrated sister." Photo: CNS



By Anthony Barich

World Youth Day pilgrims are far more interested in nourishing their faith than the majority of their Generation Y peers, an extensive study has revealed.

Rev Dr Michael Mason CSsR and Prof. Ruth Webber from Australian Catholic University and Monash University’s Dr Andrew Singleton, who previously worked together from 2003-2007 on The Spirit of Generation Y study, canvassed 12,275 pilgrims before and during WYD08 to gauge why they went and what they were hoping to get out of it.

The survey, commissioned by WYD08 administrators, conducted from May 2-15 on the internet, was anonymous and confirmed the impression the team derived from lengthy interviews conducted earlier – that the pilgrims sacrificed to get to the event and therefore wanted to be there.

“The majority of pilgrims expressed a strong faith; and, of those who were not yet at that point, many seemed to be ‘seekers’, like the centurion in the Gospel who went looking for Jesus. When asked if he believed in Him, he replied, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’,” a survey summary, issued August 14 by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said.

The respondents could be spilt into two groups who had much in common. The first group, with almost two-thirds of the English speaking Catholics in WYD’s target age range of 15-35, were older, in their 20s, in tertiary education, working or looking for employment. They set the tone for the majority attitude towards WYD.

“They were making sacrifices to take a week out to come to WYD and they were not messing around,” the summary said. “Their spirituality was very full-on, and so was their approach to WYD – they saw it as a sacred time.”

The second group were mostly aged 15-18, still in high school, whose decision to attend did not require the same high level of motivation as they were sponsored by their school or community.

Though they were initially attracted by the adventure of the event, deeper probing revealed that “the faith and spiritual practice of most of the younger group were actually very strong,” Fr Mason said.

“The most surprising finding from the survey so far was the strength of the younger group’s spirituality,” he added.

“We’d got the impression from previous research, and from some interviews that quite a few pilgrims, especially the younger ones, were not much involved with their local church.

“However that seemed to be the case with only about a quarter of the younger group. Nearly half of them were regular church attenders, had a strong faith and a firm sense of Catholic identity.

“They were a lot more involved in the life of faith than was typical for Catholics their age. What the survey told us was that underneath the youthful exuberance, most of them had a core of solid commitment.”

This differed strongly from the research team’s previous study, The Spirit of Generation Y, which surveyed the beliefs and practices of Australians aged 13-29. It revealed that only half identified with any religion – considerably below the national average.

As Cardinal George Pell of Sydney told the National Catholic Education Conference in September 2006, about 30 percent of Generation Y were moving away from their Christian origins.

“Some have reduced their attendance at worship or stopped attending altogether. Others no longer identify with a religious denomination or no longer believe in God,” he said.

“By the time Generation Y reach the age of 29, 25 per cent of those who used to belong to a church are already ex-members. The number for Catholics is 29 per cent, higher than any other denomination.”