Nothing done for young people for decades

A former Catholic youth leader in Ireland shares their thoughts about how young Catholics have fared over the last number of years.

There is a question of how much enthusiasm the Irish Bishops have given to encouraging young people. There has been a lot of parish-based commentary on the ‘absence of young people’ and the perennial question of ‘what about young people?’ How many bishops led or attended a synodal gathering with young people? I think Bishop Donal McKeown from Derry hosted a conversation with youth leaders.  There have been previous Synods on Youth, on Family, what have they learnt from these?  

Very little has followed up the previous synod on young people. Aside from the Papal Exhortation Christus Vivit and Exploring Christus Vivit, published by Veritas, very little effort has been made to unpack the vision of young people in the Church. Not every diocese participated in the previous synodal preparation on youth. Yet we didn’t really follow up the Synod on Family even though we hosted the World Meeting of Families.  

When they’re gone they’re gone   

Pastoral Staff in many dioceses are still dealing with pastoral responses to the Pandemic – but some ‘youth ministers’ have left, or their offices closed or contracts ended – this is a crucial point for the future – there is little or no investment. It is ten years since the largest Catholic youth organisation in Ireland, Catholic Youth Care closed. There has been a decline in the numbers of people employed directly to work with young people. The pandemic has left the young Church is a far from healthy state. Many young people have not really been participants in the online Church over the last two years. Now the in-person Church is back but many have not returned. Many parishioners are now wondering what happens when they are gone because they see many of our young people seem to be happy living life in but not belonging to our parishes. A number of youth leaders now have commented that those who have disappeared from our programmes won’t be back. Yet is this not the challenge, to reach the ‘departed’? Where will the investment and energy for this come from? Will dioceses continue to let youth ministry fade out and become a memory?   

Around 2005 Archbishop Diarmuid Martin spoke about a ‘listening humble church’. Have we listened? It would seem the key lifestyle issues faced by people such as LGBTQ, divorced catholics and those in second unions are still the hot topics of the synod pathway as people ask for change and a more compassionate Church. Many are questioning the role of ordination and access to it for the married and female. Are we an equal church that listens? Many are afraid that nothing will change.  Listening sure, but hearing? 

Tired Parishes  

Parishes, priests and parishioners are very tired. Many who have helped to keep ‘streaming’ masses or digital presences are now wiped out with fatigue.  This includes clergy, sacristans, musician, cantors, Parish Pastoral Council’s; they are working harder for less people attending.  The model is wrong.  

A fellow parishioner serving on a PPC – (Parish Pastoral Council) – a good person – says the Synod is at the wrong time – no one in the pews has a clue as to what it is – what’s it all about? She is no clearer.  

 The numbers of those attending the synodal gatherings is not massive. It is mainly the same people who attend other events. Some parishes and some dioceses have not really made an effort. Some dioceses have put a lot of effort into it.   

It is less than three years since Pope Francis was here – the Church is less energetic and seemingly less relevant. Isn’t “Why?” a question we as Church should be asking!  

The Church is no longer relevant to many Millennials, NONES. Pope Francis would seem to suggest this is the periphery that needs to be accompanied. Are they represented on the national or any diocesan committees? How can dioceses respond in new ways to emerging generations if they have downsized, or ceased their youth ministry programmes?  

We now have many new and younger bishops. What is their vision for a Church with young people? Are they doing anything in their ministry and not just school based outreach?   

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