By Leslie Attong
There is a gap, a wide gap, a gap that seems to be increasing annually, but seems to go unnoticed.
We pretend it isn’t there for the most part and it certainly isn’t spoken about in polite company, lest we acknowledge the elephant in the room – and will now be forced to either tame the elephant, or usher it out of the room.
So what gap am I talking about? The gap that exists in the Church’s outreach to our young (and not-so-young) Catholics between First Communion and Confirmation and then after Confirmation.
While I am certain this has been the topic of discussion at many meetings, parish councils etc, I dare say, that the change has not been the same in all parishes. And while, we all know and acknowledge that parents should and need to be children’s first and most important teachers, the fact is that much more needs to be done, to continue Catholic education for those age groups.
The glaring fact is that some of our church communities are better at outreach than others; some unfortunately seem lost as to measures to put in place, or even move toward having some measure of responsibility for those vulnerable age groups.
For the young people between the ages of 8 and 14, where are the youth groups, the church camps, the activities that teach the faith in a way that appeals? Who is ensuring that our traditions, our teachings are being passed on beyond First Communion and between Confirmation – especially now, with all the distractions of the internet. Where is the one voice speaking to what we as Catholics stand for to this age group?
Where are the programmes that cater to the young Catholics after Confirmation? Some of whom we will not see entering the church until it is time for marriage or baptism of their offspring, only to start the cycle again.
I’ve always maintained that what is needed, especially now, is community. We need for the young people to know that the Church goes beyond Mass, and we stand as a community of Catholics, who are unafraid to evangelise on a continuous basis.
We know that comparison is the thief of joy, yet it can also act as a catalyst for change. I see other denominations making a concerted effort to reach all demographics, through various events – events that cater for singles, for widowed people, for the elderly, for men, for women and on and on – thereby ensuring that they not only reach out to those within their congregation but embrace those who may have been and feel forgotten.
If you talk to those who have left the Church and have joined other denominations, one of the aspects that always comes up is the sense of community. The different ministries that cater to each member of the family and their interests.
Parents feel that there are avenues to keep their children engaged in holistic (and holy) activities, which results in friendships being formed, and we all know the role friendships play in the lives of our teens. So, wouldn’t we want to capitalise on this?
It is time that we go beyond the talk and start showing up in spaces where we are needed. We need to embrace the rapidly changing reality of our present times and spread the gospel. We need to show our young Catholics, how we can live the gospel daily and encourage friendships of like nature. We cannot bemoan the negative culture that is growing like a fungus, and affecting our young people, and just hope it goes away.
We need a clarion call! We need to gather the troops and not just pray about it (not diminishing the power of prayer) but putting in the work as well…“Faith without works is dead”!
We should not sit by and hope that our young people know that they are part of the community; we need to reach them where they are. In fact, we need to widen the circle: we need to ensure that our single Catholics, our divorcees, the widowed, the elderly – especially those living alone, the lonely, know that there is not only a community in spirit, but a community of real people, a community of Catholics that care.
We need to show them our Catholicism doesn’t end with the final greeting at Mass, but it is indeed a living and vibrant body.