Young Catholics Respond to a Chance to Shine
Briggs, David, National Catholic Reporter
There are a lot of differences between the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass at St. Ambrose Catholic Church and the regular morning Masses at other local Catholic churches.
The first is the late-afternoon timing, which is preferred by young people who like to sleep in or have other activities during the day. The most significant difference, however, is that the church is packed with teens and young adults.
They greet churchgoers. They lead the procession into the church. They read and bring the gifts for the priest to prepare the Eucharist. They help distribute Communion and play music.
Congregations such as St. Ambrose are the future of the Catholic church in the United States, say prominent church observers and researchers.
A historic shift in attitudes and practices--including a steep decline in Mass attendance--among Catholic youth raises concerns that coming generations will be much less likely to be part of parish life, sociologists say.
One researcher predicts that the number of U.S. Catholics will decline by one-third in the next generation; others predict smaller but significant drops if the church does not adapt to younger Catholics who have to be persuaded--rather than ordered--to attend Mass.
In a new book, American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church, four leading sociologists say young Catholics--in an affluent society with little anti-Catholicism, and in a church that has emphasized the development of individual moral consciences over rules--need to be won over.
"They see it [the church] as only one of many possible means to help them meet their own needs," write William D'Antonio and Dean Hoge of The Catholic University of America, James Davidson of Purdue University and Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied
Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
What young Catholics want is to be meaningful participants rather than passive consumers in religious life, say youth workers.
"Teens want to belong," said Fr. Andy Turner, associate pastor and youth minister of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wickliffe, Ohio. "We need to bring them to a sacred place."
Since the 1960s, all churches have competed with massive social changes that encourage individual autonomy over respect for institutions.
Unlike many mainline Protestant churches, Catholic membership has increased, from 46.2 million in 1965 to 64 million in 2005. Catholics have remained relatively steady at about 23 percent of the U.S. population.
Hispanic immigration is responsible for much of that growth. Sociologist Mark Chaves of Duke University says more than half of Catholics under 10 today are Hispanic. …