In the last five or so years, rapidly increasing numbers of Catholic teenagers are participating in revitalized youth programs in all parts of the country.
The Catholic World Report (October) find growing numbers of young people drawn to church-directed programs based on strongly orthodox Catholic teachings in the context of socially oriented outreach. Some five years ago, Catholic youth ministers may have seen little if any reason to believe such a turn-around could occur. But now convincing evidence exists showing such a revitalization.
The number of young people participating in Life Teen Ministries has doubled to 40,000 in this time period. Subscriptions to the Catholic teen magazine YOU! has gone from l0,000 to 40,000; the attendance at the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, meeting every other year, has grown by 143 percent; some 17,000 young people attended its meeting last year in Kansas City, and Catholic colleges, such as Franciscan
University of Ohio, have added substantially to the number of youth oriented retreats in their ministries. Observers suggest the single most important cause for the boom came from the hugely enthusiastic welcome teens gave to Pope Paul John II in Denver in l993. Critics suggest the boom is due mostly to young peoples’ enthusiasm for meeting other peers in a socially safe environment. Proponents acknowledge that may be part of the attraction, the other being a reawakened desire to learn the Catholic fundamentals that their parents hadn’t taught them.
An informal opinion poll taken at a youth conference at Franciscan University shows 84 percent say they attend Mass weekly, 74 percent go to confession once a year. More than 75 percent state they “love the Church” and 69 percent claim they “love the Pope.” Equally large numbers say that priests should remain celibate, that Mass is not boring, and that receiving communion while in a state of mortal sin is wrong.
Promising as these signs are, leaders of youth programs note the major obstacles to further growth that are facing the participants. Youth today do not see a significant Catholic presence in their daily lives; they still encounter lackluster teaching in their parishes, as well as the pervasive influence of popular teen culture. Yet, the movement is much farther along today than just five years ago. More seminarians are entering youth ministry careers, experts on youth culture are working more closely with diocesan leaders, and bishops are giving high priority to expanding youth ministries.
— By Erling Jorstad