Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Generation Why? 5 Things Catholic Teens Want to Know ... and Aren't Afraid to Ask

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Generation Why? 5 Things Catholic Teens Want to Know ... and Aren't Afraid to Ask

Article excerpt


Here's the good news from the land of Catholic teenagers: They want more. They want more religious knowledge, more connection with Jesus, and more direction and opportunity to live their faith in the parish and the world. And here's the bad news: They don't always get that.

Catholic teens say they not only want to know more about their faith, they also have a few questions about things they want from their church. While more involved than the average Catholic teen, the young people interviewed for this article provide pointers for the church on how to reach them and the larger pool of their less committed peers.

Teens today live in a world that is often hostile or, worse, indifferent to organized religion. They are offered many compelling alternatives to Catholicism as an explanation for life and a guide to living. Few Catholic youth turn to the church for answers, and few are there enough to hear the answers that may come. The first step toward evangelizing teenagers, then, is to listen to them.

Here's the best of the good news: Teenagers are full of questions and eager to talk about them. Sadly parents and other adults rarely start the conversation. Indeed, researchers for the National Study of Youth and Religion, who surveyed thousands and then interviewed 267 teens around the country, concluded that for many, "it was the first time that any adult had ever asked them what they believed and how it mattered in their life."

So why was Jesus killed after all?

Many teens, like most adults, don't know much about their religion. They have one advantage over their elders: curiosity. In their thirst to better know and understand Catholicism, teens are often frustrated or bewildered by church teachings. Their inquiries range from the procedural to the profound.

"I know a lot [about Catholicism], but I couldn't explain it to another person," says Colby Schrom, 13, of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Albany, New York.


In this, teens are much like the rest of us. A 2005 survey by sociologist James D. Davidson found that half of Catholics feel the same way, suggesting that all generations need a better religious education. Teens at least are willing to ask.

Many are struck by how little they know compared to friends of other faiths. "Protestants know much more about the basics of their religion, and Jewish people are taught from Day One and know everything, and I'm still making my way," says Jessica Schladebeck, 16, a student at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. "Until recently I never learned how to interpret the Bible."

Teens commonly ask about mysteries such as the virgin birth, says Elaine Escobales, who runs a youth group for Hispanic teens at Holy Family Parish in Albany. "They ask, 'Why are we supposed to believe this if modern day science tells us you have to have sex to become pregnant?' Or they ask, 'If the Holy Spirit is someone, how do we find him?'"

In an interview with six students in a quiet library at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany, many questions are variations on a simple theme: Says who?

Crystal Cuevas, 16, wonders about belief without proof, an aspect to all religions: "Our religion is based on faith. What if you don't have faith? Then what is there?" Matthew Houle, the school chaplain, says he hears such questions every day: "How do we know that's really true?"

Teens puzzle over age-old faith questions: "Why is there suffering if God is looking out for everyone?" asks Schladebeck, who is also a host of Real-faith TV, a show produced by and for teens in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

Even when they know a teaching, teenagers often balk. "They just cannot believe why certain things are sinful and that they're going to go to hell over it," says Alex Gaitan, a Claretian seminarian who works with Hispanic youth at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Chicago. …

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