Vatican admits an urgent need to understand the youth

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”  (Rom 10:14)  How will the youth hear the preacher if he doesn’t speak their language?  How can he speak the right words unless he has listened first to their needs.  The youth are not the future of the Church; they are the Church’s present.  The youth are not the leaders of tomorrow; they are the servants of today.  We need to stop thinking about how we can get young people to our events. We need to stop treating them as if we have all the answers.  We need youth ministers who are first good listeners and authentic witnesses then they can be credible speakers.  

The Vatican’s culture ministry warned last week that the Catholic Church risks losing future generations if it doesn’t learn how to understand young people, their language and their culture.The Pontifical Council for Culture invited sociologists, web experts and theologians to a three-day, closed-door event on Feb. 6-9 aimed at studying “emerging youth cultures.”  

According to a working paper released ahead of the meeting, the church risks “offering answers to questions that are not there” if it doesn’t learn “the cultural reality of young people.”  A study released last October by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that young people are increasingly disconnected from religion, with one in three Americans aged 18-29 describing themselves as religiously unaffiliated.

The Rev. Melchor Sanchez de Toca, undersecretary of the Vatican’s culture department, said in an interview that the church’s youth problem is not just “quantitative” — evidenced by a decline in key indicators, such as baptisms and church attendance — but also “qualitative.”  The youth world, he said, has changed “radically,” but the church “is still offering what it has been offering for the past 500 years.”  “We keep on giving the same answers but the way questions are posed is now totally different.”
Even if youth culture is often marked by individualism, superficiality and hedonism, the council’s president, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said during a Thursday press conference that its “diversity” is “not only negative” but “contains surprising seeds of fruitfulness and authenticity.”


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