Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Is the Church Obsolete?

Is the Church obsolete? A relic of the past that is no longer relevant in the modern world, especially for our young people? Looking over the statistics for 2010, a professor at Sogang University notes that although attendance of adults at Sunday Mass is low (30 percent), attendance of the young is even lower, much lower at less than 7 percent. The young people, he says, are leaving the Church quietly.

Expressing his opinion on the open forum page of the Catholic Times, he believes this situation could have been foreseen by the way the young students were not attending their Sunday school classes. They did attend while in grammar school, but on entering middle and high school the expectations to do well, along with the intense  preparations for the college entrance exams, was more important to them than attending Mass. More attention should be given, he says, to educating the parents on what is necessary for raising mature and responsible Christians.

The young are not only leaving the Church because of outside interests. Being Catholic, he says, no longer has the attraction it once did for many of them.  Compared to what it was like in the 70s, when large numbers of young people and the  well-educated  were coming into the Church, the numbers have steadily decreased. He reminds us of the saying that the Church in the West lost the workers in the 19th century, and the young in the 20th century. In Korea, we lost the workers in the 1990s, and can we now say we are losing the  youth in the 21st century?

When the young are no longer coming out to the Church and those who are in the Church are leaving, the future of the Church is not  bright. And the situation is no better with the religious orders, which have also experienced a decrease in numbers. Even among those who do show an interest, the quality of life and understanding of the commitment involved is not what it once was. This is not a good omen for the future of the Church. His recommendation is that the dioceses and religious orders need to work together, and fund the efforts to prepare for the future. We should not be content with one-time efforts or a display of energy, but draw up 10-year plans to do something about the situation.

The professor mentions two examples of young people who have joined together to affect change in the Church. In Korea, it's the Movement of Scripture and Faith Sharing, which has been going strong for over 30 years. Outside Korea, he mentions the Taizè Community meeting in Rome at the end of last year. 45,000 young adults  came together to pray with Pope Benedict XVI.

The common element in these meetings that he believes is responsible  for their success is having the youth in control of the meetings. Their input is encouraged and appreciated; they are not  there as guests but as the hosts--they are running the show.  A second element that makes these meetings a success is having God at the center. In the Taizè meeting they get together 3 times during the day to pray. They want something that the world cannot give, which prompted the professor to recall the words of St. Peter to describe the nature of their commitment: "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:69).

He mentions that when Pope John Paul II brought up the idea of having a Youth World Day, those around him tried to dissuade him. The young would not be interested, they told him. He went ahead with the idea, as we know, and with great success.

The professor ends his remarks by repeating that if the Church is not to lose the young people, they have to be the pastoral agents; they must be encouraged to come together to experience the power of the Scriptures. The only remaining question that needs to be answered is, Who will be the leaders of this movement in the future Church? 


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