The recent Fordham Conference brought to everyone's attention the divergence of young people's lives from church attendance and Catholic beliefs. Reading through the comments section of different blogs here suggests many different hypotheses and it is interesting that a common theme is lack of connection of young people at the parish level. We hear of young people searching for a parish where they might feel "at home" or "comfortable" and learn at least one young person spent two years unable to accomplish this task even in a big city surrounded by many parishes. We note many complaints about music, sermons and liturgy. We may even know from experience that at many Masses, most heads are grayer than President Obama's, and this is especially seen if you sit in the back. One regular commenter quotes another in asking about the structural role of the parish itself:
I think things are really happening in the various movements that move beyond (or span a variety of) parishes. Catholic Underground, Charismatics, Neo-cats, Focolare, Communion and Liberation, the Catholic Worker, and in some cases, college campus ministry engage Millennials in profound ways. At Fordham (I graduated last May), we enjoyed great liturgies, great preaching, great retreats, and many communal meals. It makes me wonder if the future will involve less emphasis of identifying with geographic parishes, and more with these general movements.
Although not focusing on young people, Vincent Gragnani called lay movements and their specialization of focus "A Symphony of Church Life." (America, August 14, 2006). Modern day movements display a spectrum of Catholicism and include Focolare, Communion and Liberation, Regnum Christi, Cursillo, Catholic Worker, Opus Dei, or even Courage. Members may become more involved in such a movement than their own parish and their major emotional investment may be to the movement. Then-Cardinal Jospeh Ratzinger wrote about the history of these movements in the church and stated: "The pope has to rely on the ministries, they on him; and in the harmonious interaction between the two kinds of mission, the symphony of ecclesial life is realized."
On the other hand, some of these groups become controversial and some such as Legionaires, Regnum Christi, and Voice of the Faithful have even been refused permission to use church property. Gragnani says the experts agree that the sign of a good lay movement is that the person is encouraged even more to invest in the life of the parish:
Lay movements always bring challenge to the church in at least two ways,” said H. Richard McCord, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth. “They represent a certain amount of new energy, new insight, a pushing out of the edges of mission. That’s a challenge probably in a good sense. But they also bring a challenge in that they need to be tied to the larger community of the church, which is institutional and hierarchical.” Most of the movements he encounters meet that challenge, he said. “None try to claim you body and soul,” McCord said. “They keep releasing you back to your parish for service.
Ratzinger's research amply indicates that, when there has been a specific spiritual gap, movements have arisen in the church to meet this need. Perhaps it will not be the parishes that are the key players in keeping our young people in the church but rather new movements—yet to be imagined and put in place—that will engage them and challenge them with the Gospel's call. An important task—each young person is a potential mustard seed from which great things might grow. As you read this, the beginnings of such a movement may already be flourishing...maybe on a Jesuit college campus near you!
William Van Ornum