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Church seeking to 
be young again

On February 6, the Pontifical Council for Culture was rocked into another world, as its closed-door three-day study on Emerging Youth Cultures got underway with a concert by rock band, The Sun.

While it is believed to be the first time a Vatican conference has been opened with a rock concert, the topic to be looked at has been described as highly serious by the Council for Culture, as it noted on January 31 that the Church is in danger of losing future generations if it cannot come to grips with the culture of young people and come to understand their language, hopes and aspirations.

A working paper says that the Church risks offering answers that are not there if it does not learn about the reality of young people.

The undersecretary of the council, Father Sanchez de Toca, said that the world has changed radically, but the Church is still offering what it has been offering for the past 500 years.

The council’s president, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, pointed out that the Church is often quick to be critical of anyone who does not fit in, noting that many things that may sound negative to an old ear can actually be sown with surprising seeds of fruitfulness and authenticity.

A study released last October in the United States of America by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, shows that young people are increasingly disconnected from religion, with one in three Americans aged between 18 and 29 describing themselves as religiously unaffiliated.

However, that does not mean that they are not religious, but rather that religious institutions simply do not talk to them in a language they can understand.

Our parishes have often been described as the over-40s talking to the over-40s and are increasingly becoming the over-60s talking to the over-60s, offering neither a liturgy, nor a message or an atmosphere that young people find meaningful.

While it has also been said that young people don’t like coming to Mass, teachers in Catholic schools have long reported that, for the most part, students don’t have a problem with the type of liturgies celebrated in school classrooms, it is the parish that they can’t relate to.

Young people in Hong Kong have often called for more youth-friendly organisations, to get away from the parish where they feel older people are watching them, and live in an organisation where they can have responsibility and grow in faith with their peers.

While the Church seems to have put most of its youth eggs in the World Youth Day basket, it is, even for those who do attend, which is just a tiny minority, a once in a life time experience and, even though often a profound one, far divorced from local Church.

Perhaps the bottom line lesson to be learned from the Vatican youth culture study, which, although it is made up of aged youth experts, will at least be addressed by a few young people, is that the Church does not listen to the youth.

In Church circles they can often be judged by how well they accommodate themselves to the adult world and not be how they enjoy being young or struggle with the avalanche of problems that may plague their generation.

Perhaps the challenge is just to recognise the innate goodness of the young. JiM