By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

In a society loaded with “options,” it may appear young Catholics are drifting from the faith looking for “something better.” But there’s hope that through listening, accompanying and challenging young Catholics to own their faith they will walk back into the welcoming arms of the church, according to priests and campus ministers in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

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Father Andrew Merrick, pastor of Christ the King Church and Catholic Center in Baton Rouge, celebrates Mass at CTK. Priests and campus ministers in the Diocese of Baton Rouge say accompanying young Catholics and helping them make the faith their own is a way to keep them connected to their faith. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

Father Tom Clark SJ, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Baton Rouge, said exploring options is “all part of growing up.”  

College-aged Catholics who consume their time with clubs, fraternities, schoolwork and other activities centered around food, coffee shops, technology, sports, etc., may find it easier to “let go” of attending Mass.  

“It’s not that they intentionally say ‘I am not going to Mass,’ as much as ‘I didn’t get around to it,’ ” said Sister Renée Daigle, assistant director and campus minister at St. Albert the Great Chapel and Catholic Student Center at Southeastern Louisiana University.  

“They (young adults) are not under their parents’ roof, so if they are going to church it’s going to be their choice not because somebody is telling them to go,” said Sister Renée.  </span id=”6″>I think for some of them it’s the first time that they know that they have to own their faith. Therefore it makes them question.  

“Some of them may be taking a course and a professor is telling them all kinds of stuff. They start to question, and they might pull away and feel like ‘Oh this isn’t something I need.’ ”  

Father Clark said a young person’s commitment to their faith and Mass attendance while in college is proportionate to their parents’ commitment before they even get to college. Those things that the family found most important is most likely going to be most important to the young Catholics.  

“The ‘nones’ (those who have not identified themselves with any religious affiliation) is said to be the largest denomination of young people. And the largest denomination in this country is former Catholics of all ages,” said Sister Renée. 

Technology is a great tool for evangelization and catechesis, but it also poses challenges in that compared to what’s available on various social media, some young people may find Mass and silence “boring.”  

“There’s something about being connected … ‘I don’t have to be alone as long as I have this,’ ” said Rita West, campus minister at St. Albert, holding up her cell phone. “We need that solitude with the Lord and not the pace of this.  

“And we don’t understand the richness of what’s there to recognize it. Actually this experience and this pace (God’s) is what I’m created for – not this (phone). There’s this disconnect of ‘this feels boring’ but actually there’s just a misunderstanding of what’s happening here.”  

Before giving into what appears to be a dismal picture, there is hope and success stories in reaching young people, according to Sister Renée, West and Father Mike O’Rourke OP, director and chaplain at St. Albert. 

New chapters in young people’s lives open the possibility of looking for something deeper than what the culture offers them, Father O’Rourke noted.  

“A lot of people I see leave (the church) do so until they get married or start a family, and it’s a kind of life change that gets them to rethink all of that, not just ‘all right. I’m to spend my life with this other person,’ but ‘Okay, what’s this all about?’ ” said Father O’Rourke. “It’s just those kind of events that make them review things.”  

Sister Renée noted that the younger generation of Catholics are non-judgmental and accepting.  

“This generation doesn’t have boxes that they put people in. I think this is where some of the questioning comes from,” she said.  

And the fact that young Catholics are seeking the truth and asking questions means they haven’t given up on their faith all together, according Father O’Rourke, Sister Renee and West.  

“There are a lot of students open to having dialogue and asking questions and really listening,” said West.  

She said it’s a healthy dialogue in which, rather than asking in an accusatory way, they say, “What’s your response to this?”  

But the church must be open to listening to young people rather than “laying down the law,” Father O’Rourke said.  

“We need to grow ears,” he added.  

The campus ministers and priests said people must also not overestimate the power of invitation.  

At St. Albert and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on the campus of Southern University, there are retreats, Bible studies, food, socials, help with studies and other invitations that draw the students in.  

According to Father Clark and Wilfred Johnson, campus minister at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, there is a bus that comes to pick students up for Sunday morning Mass at Immaculate Conception and sets up a booth at the student center with information and Bibles.  

“We have to go out to where they are,” said Johnson, who attended Catholic schools as well as Southern and connected with MLK because someone “told him it was there,” something which applies to today’s young Catholics.  

Catholics can invite the younger generations to take a fresh look at the faith by living their faith authentically alongside them, emphasized Sister Renée.  

This involves humility and recognizing one doesn’t have all the answers, West said.  

“It’s catechesis for ourselves and them,” she said “developing and recognizing ‘I’m helping someone walk,’ helping someone else to develop their faith, saying, ‘I’m not done. I’m not going to know all of it. Let’s walk together.’ ”  

Father Clark agreed.  

“We have to be with them, whether they are attending Mass or not so they can develop that relationship,” he said.  

The priests and campus ministers were optimistic not only about the ability of young people to “find their way home” to the church, but to guide it.  

“I don’t think this is a lost generation,” said Sister Renée. “And I think that if we really do have ears to hear there can be some leadership in this generation helping the church to become more of what Jesus Christ calls it to be.”  

Johnson said, “We have to help them see what they can become.”