June 22, 2018

Young adults seek a sense of belonging at critical time for them and the Church

Hoping to make a difference in the world is one of the defining qualities of young adult Catholics. Here, three members of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis pose for a photo with a resident of Haiti, second from left, during a service trip to that Caribbean country in 2017. The St. John members are Meghan McCann, left, Alexandra Makris and Homero Santiago Valladares. (Submitted photo)

Hoping to make a difference in the world is one of the defining qualities of young adult Catholics. Here, three members of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis pose for a photo with a resident of Haiti, second from left, during a service trip to that Caribbean country in 2017. The St. John members are Meghan McCann, left, Alexandra Makris and Homero Santiago Valladares. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Second part in a continuing series
(Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)

It’s a generation of Catholics that struggles with staggering student debt, the pressures of society and the anxieties of trying to discover their place in the world.

It’s also a generation of Catholics—ages 18 to 35—that desires to find and develop lasting relationships with others and with God.

And it’s a generation of Catholics that believes its energy, vision and passion can make a tremendous impact on the Church and society—now and in the future.

That’s the overall picture that emerges from the responses of the young adults in the archdiocese who accepted Pope Francis’ invitation to answer a survey that will contribute significantly to the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment that will take place at the Vatican in October.

The synod is in response to a critical reality in the life of the Church. It’s a reality expressed in this assessment from the archdiocese’s summary of all the people in central and southern Indiana who responded to the survey: “About 25 percent of our teens and half of our young adults do not sense that our Church is adept at listening to their lived situations. This consultation process is a good step in that direction.”

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As the synod nears, The Criterion is sharing some of the feedback that was provided by youths and young adults who answered the survey. Today, we share thoughts and insights from the 91 young adults who responded to the following questions on the survey:

What are one or two of the biggest life-challenges young adults in our area are facing?

The challenges of starting a career, paying off student debt, finding a welcoming community, and developing relationships with other young adults were cited often in regard to this question. Other challenges that were stated include:

• “Young adults still struggle with their identity. They struggle with seeing how science and religion connect. They struggle with discovering their vocation, and even more importantly, they struggle with how to love.”

• “Young adults are trying to make their way in the world. Some are discerning their vocation. Some are praying for and looking for their future spouse. Some married, some married with children. We are a very varied group, which can at times make it difficult to relate to one another even though we are young adults.”

• “Even though we are connected in countless ways via social media, having meaningful and life-giving relationships is difficult. Work and school can be demanding, which causes us to become selfish with our time. When we get chances to meet friends or volunteer, we first ask ourselves, ‘How will this benefit me?’ ”

• “Today’s culture pressures young adults—and all ages in general—with materialistic idolatry and constant distraction to allowing faith to be a part of their modern lives. Being a part of the Church and living with that faith requires being intentional, and the society can so easily distract people from this reality.”
 

What are one or two positive things that young adults can offer the Church or society today?

“Energy” was the most frequent response. Other often-mentioned qualities included empathy, enthusiasm, a fresh perspective and skills in technology.

• “They can offer an enthusiasm and a fire for the Church that not many people have. The Church in the [United States] needs to be revitalized, and the young adults today can do that. They really care about what’s going on, but at the same time they want to be engaged.”

• “Young adults are typically energetic and passionate. They come from a generation that wants to make a difference in the world so they typically bring a passion for—and a focus on—social justice and service.”

• “We can think of new ideas and help follow them through. We are flexible and maybe not as set in our ways as older people can be. The Church is a family that has room for everyone. That doesn’t mean that the Church condones sins, but it does mean that we should have open doors and suspend judgment about someone’s potential. We are meant to all work together, across demographics.”
 

Why do some young adults drift away from the Church?

At the archdiocesan level, the young adults’ responses to this question filled more pages than their answers to any other question on the survey. Their responses also seem more wide-ranging to this question than any other.

• “I think lack of faith is the biggest factor. Also, many people see Christians/Catholics acting no different than non-churchgoers. There’s an idea that one can just be ‘a nice person’ without all the extra responsibilities of a faithful Christian life.”

• “Some don’t agree with social teaching—for example, gay marriage—and are against the Church. (Please note that myself and friends strongly in the Church understand our teachings and embrace them, but we are the few.)”

• “As a young adult, I have to put in an extreme effort to be part of the Church community. It can feel like we are not needed there. The adults seem to be the biggest force, and the focus is on them. If I didn’t have strong roots in my faith and I felt unwelcome, I would slowly stop trying to participate.”

• “Honestly, ‘it isn’t fun’ is what I hear. Or, ‘the only people I see are old or young families. No one my age goes.’ ”

• “I think many young people are too busy to devote the time to develop their spiritual selves. Or they are simply not interested because they don’t understand how doing so could help them. It’s a lot easier spending that time catching up on studying, work or your latest Netflix binge.”

• “Lack of connection to other young adults. Music at Mass that doesn’t call to us. Lack of opportunities to get involved.”

• “They think faith is something between them and God, and not something they need to come to church for.”

• “Most parishes do not have a young adult program. If they did, I think there would be more that would come back.”

• “The reasons are many, but the one I notice the most has to do with the changing culture of young adulthood in the U.S. For past generations, the Catholic Church in America has relied on sacramental milestones to keep young adults engaged in the Church.

“People may have drifted in early young adulthood, but were quickly brought back to the fold when they were engaged to be married and needed membership at a parish to embark on pre-Cana and ultimately have a Church wedding. Then once children came along, young adults found themselves again in need of being registered, active members of a parish to have their child baptized.

“However, the culture in the U.S. is shifting, and many young adults are now getting married and having children later in their young adult years—late 20s, 30s. This leaves a 10+ year gap between the time the young person is under the guidance of parents to when they reach the traditional milestones of marriage/baptism that ensure continued parish involvement.

“Catholic young adults who are not married or do not have children often have a hard time finding a place to fit into parish life, and may find themselves floating from church to church without a parish community anchoring them, or worse, drifting away from the Church entirely.”
 

What do young adults want from the Church?

The overwhelming repeated response to this question can be summarized in these three connected desires: acceptance, community and a sense of belonging.

• “A community to pray with, to challenge me, to listen.”

• “Help to grow. Encouragement to try things within our communities. Support during our times of struggle, especially within our economy and starting families. And prayer.”

• “Salvation, and a sense of being needed as part of the congregation.”

• “The same as anyone else: the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the grace of God through the sacraments.”

• “For it to change its teachings. But I beg you not to do this. There is such a disconnect between ‘average’ Catholics and the teachings of the Church. Secular society has made its way into the pews, and if we submit to this, I believe it will be detrimental to the Church.”

• “More support on marriage, career choices, faith, adjusting to adulthood.”

• “Involvement. Young adult groups that are led by young adults and people who are on fire and excited to be there! More praise-and-worship nights.”

• “Opportunities that make them feel valued, resources to help us learn teachings, and how to live them in our daily lives.”

• “They want to feel they are becoming a better person because of their Church involvement. More service and community engagement opportunities.”

• “To experience true mercy, love and passion as Christ did/showed for us.”
 

What would help more young adults grow and stay involved in their Catholic faith?

• “Someone to walk with, and be PATIENT with them. I can’t begin to thank the people who were—and are— patient with me in my journey. It can be lonely trying to grow in faith, and we really are meant to be in community with other believers. What has helped me tremendously is the older parishioners I have become friends with through ministries. A parish really ought to be a family!”

• “Community activities within the Church that are both faith-based and fun. Young adults like going out and being with other young adults, meeting new people and having a good time.”

• “Peer Bible studies. Parish mentors. Digital, easy-to-understand media to continue study of faith.”

• “An exciting service, better music, shorter and concise homilies. Younger people involved in the Church.”

• “Being asked to take on responsibilities in the parish.”

• “Appeal to their need to change even a small part of the world.”

• “Better catechesis. We need to learn why the Church says the things they say.”

• “Intentional community. Young adult parish staff or volunteers reaching out to them, meeting them where they are. Provide childcare so parents can come to gatherings. Make them and their young families feel welcome at Sunday Mass. Stay true to the teachings of Jesus. Acknowledge the state of life they are in, and be patient with them.” †

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