In a recent article for America, Colleen Dulle asked, “Where are the millennial Catholic activists?” The question was prompted by the arrest on Feb. 27 of 40 Catholic leaders who had gathered in the U.S. Senate building to demand action to protect Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. She noted that those who were arrested were overwhelmingly older people, and made the case for greater millennial engagement in Catholic social justice movements.
It is true that most of the people getting arrested were of the Boomer generation, many of them older Catholic sisters. What Ms. Dulle overlooked, however, is the number of millennial Catholics who also showed up that day in support of Dreamers. They were not on the front lines getting arrested. They were not in the photographs that made headlines following the event. But they were there. I know because I was one of them.
Millennial Catholics were not on the front lines getting arrested. But they were there. I know because I was one of them.
Last May, I graduated from the College of the Holy Cross with majors in religious studies and French. During my time there, my faith led me to question the status quo and challenge unjust structures. My passion for religion and justice carried me to Washington, D.C., after graduation to work at NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice as a communications associate.
Since starting at NETWORK, I have been impressed by the role the faith leaders can play in shaping politics. But even more so, I am continually inspired by the other young Catholics I meet who are working for justice. Sister Simone Campbell, of “Nuns on the Bus” fame, may be the face of our organization, but behind her is a staff—including many Catholic millennials—who make our work possible.
NETWORK’s staff is not an isolated example of young Catholic activists. The same can be said of many of our coalition partners. The Ignatian Family Teach-In, which brings together thousands of high school and college students each November for social justice workshops and advocacy, is an amazing testimony to the power of young Catholics to mobilize and take action. There is a pipeline of Catholic activists cultivated by groups like the Ignatian Solidarity Network, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Mercy Volunteer Corps and NETWORK who go on to work for justice in other fields, from law and politics to teaching and community organizing.
Millennial Catholics are still showing up for justice.
If the face of Catholic activism today is the Baby Boomers, then millennial Catholics are certainly the body. While we may not always participate in acts of civil disobedience, we are showing up at rallies, protests and marches. We are the ones organizing events, tweeting, taking pictures and participating in the collective call on Congress to do more. And for millennials at the start of their careers, this makes sense: Who knows what an arrest record could mean for pending law school applications or other career moves as we discern and live out our vocations? Even though our actions do not appear to be as “newsworthy” as those of our elders, without us these movements would not have the traction they do, especially in the modern media environment.
As Ms. Dulle points out, Generation Z, the new under-20 cohort, is less religious than previous generations. Similarly, younger millennials are less likely to identify with a religion, and among older millennials, the share of “nones” is increasing, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2015 survey found that “the 35% of Millennials who do not identify with a religion is double the share of unaffiliated Baby Boomers (17%).”
Maybe the problem is not the decline in millennial Catholic activists but the decline in millennial Catholics period.
Regardless, millennial Catholics are still showing up for justice. Enlivened by our faith to work for those living on the margins and in the shadows, we will continue to do our part and make our voices heard.