Never in its 2,000 history have Catholic leaders in the Church had so much information at their fingertips about the condition of the Church in this part of the country, in that economic strata, in that age group, in that nationality. One aspect of the modern world is we do have statistics on everything and for the most part that is very good. However, statistics can also be frightening! That is especially true if these numbers unmask serious problems within the Church that in the past we have had a tendency to ignore.
One of those problems is the massive defection of people from the Catholic Church in the United States and in Western Europe over the last half century. There are many reasons for it, but I am not sure that our leaders are really grappling with those reasons. Among those departed, a very high percentage are today’s young people. Since we are such a big Church, it is hard to see at first glance how many have left us. Our churches in most parts of the country continue to be full. New parishes are being built every year, especially in the Southwest and West. But yet, departing, they are.
The loss of young people is both dramatic and tragic. At 82 years old, I am not in any position to tell people how to effectively reach this new generation, how to involve them, to motivate them, to instill in them a sense of pride in this awesome reality which is the Catholic Church. I do know one thing. They have to be much more involved than they are today.
It is good that we have youth organizations and youth activity but most of them are, in a sense, set aside. They are not in the main structure and flow of the life of the Church. I think that should be changed as quickly as possible. Our young people need to be given real responsibility in the life of the Church, and be made to feel that their views and ideas are listened to seriously and when documented with good reason acted upon.
Jesus started his public life at an age that, in the United States, he would have been blocked from running for the presidency. But start his public life, he did.
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Last Friday, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass for a large number of middle school kids who had taken part in a five-day mission program, “Just 5 Days.” I was impressed! I was moved! These young people had come from across the country to work in Austin through programs in the community where they could give “just five days” of service to people who have special needs. Those five days were also filled with conversation about the ultimate purpose of our life; sanctity, walking in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth. They were also filled with intense study of Catholic social teaching. What a wonderful concept.
After Mass was celebrated, they returned to their respective towns and parishes. They now carry a renewed commitment to our never-ending challenge – to work for a more just and more equitable world.
All of these kids are Catholic but overwhelmingly they attend the public schools. Public schools endeavor to do a great job with the challenges that are before them, but isn’t it sad that they cannot really transfer moral and spiritual values to their students? All values are ultimately religious in one form or another and those schools are blocked from stepping into that crucially important area of life.
We need many more programs like Just Five Days!
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Yes, the film is the thing. Isn’t that what Shakespeare said, or something very much like it? I have always enjoyed good movies, but I never had the slightest desire to get into the process of learning how to make them. However, today’s generation is different. For reasons that are mysterious to me, there is a powerful and fascinating desire among a large percentage of young people to develop the skills connected with movie production. I found this an especially strong desire and tendency among young Hispanics. For this reason, a small school has developed over in East Austin called Austin School of Film and its main outreach program is called “Cine Joven.” There they are training scores of young bilingual children in technology, mentoring, acting, script writing and producing. They are even writing their own Telenovela for Spanish Speaking Television.
Why is this important? Regretfully, minority children frequently feel marginalized and that they are not part of the main flow of the society in which they live. Seeing themselves in the movies and making those movies themselves is an extraordinarily uplifting experience for these kids. My heartfelt congratulations to Anne Kelley who is the driving force behind this school. The address of the Austin School of Film is 1634 East Cesar Chavez, Austin, Texas 78702. Here is their website: http://www.austinfilmschool.org/
If you have any money left over from Christmas, send them a gift. If you don’t, send them a smaller gift!
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Our economy is struggling with troubles. Many Americans fear, and for good reason, that the economy, which was chugging along pretty well for the last 12 months or so, is beginning to slide back to the doldrums, not that we actually ever got out of them. The business community, the economists and the politicians all have statistics at their fingertips – the market is doing that, corporate profits last year are now in this point, exports are doing well and so on and so on.
Statistical measurements of the economy can be perfectly valid and useful. They do indicate progress or decline and they are necessary for realistic planning but they do not by any means tell the whole story.
Depressions are depressing!
The Great Depression damaged the self-confidence of hundreds of thousands of young people. They came out of high school and college into an economy that did not need them and did not want them. A widespread sense of depression was offset by World War II that resulted in a great victory for justice and freedom. That generation blossomed.
Once again, young people coming out of school are facing an extremely difficult situation and again many are being deeply discouraged. The third millennium is not too friendly to them and 9.6% unemployment is only part of the story. Millions have returned to college or entered the military and tens of thousands of young men and women have stopped looking or have been forced to return to the homes to their parents. What is discouraging for this generation is not simply that they are out of work but the economic trends indicate that they are going to continue to be out of work for a considerable period of time.
For a restored economy, we need productive and meaningful jobs and we also need to help to generate confidence and optimism among young men and women who feel battered by conditions over which they have absolutely no control.
Let’s help each other in every way possible.
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Those wedding bells are ringing full blast! People enter into and celebrate marriage throughout the year, but the first half of summer is the busiest time. I’ll bet hardly anyone reading this today doesn’t know one or more friends or family who are recently married or are planning marriage.
When the couple getting married is young- early 20’s- there is something beautiful, hopeful, and at the same time, naïve about their entry into a totally new state of their life. Older couples sometimes smile when they see the exuberance and joy that surrounds weddings, receptions, and the sight of the couple driving off into the future.
But life is tough. Following the honeymoon, responsibilites descend upon the couple, and they find themselves facing pressures and disconnects that they may not have anticipated. They have just established the basic unit of our society- the building block for the economy, education, social development and practically every other aspect of life.
I sometimes criticize the churches for not doing their job well enough, but I want to congratulate the many faith groups that have taken seriously their responsibility to assist these young couples as they go forward together. There are many different programs, some better than others, but it’s wonderful to see the larger faith community trying to be a real help at a crucial time.
Do you know a young couple that has recently married? They’re not going to knock on your door and share why she cried so much last night, or why he is bewildered about what she needs. Be conscious that for many young people, marriage is a difficult adjustment. They need love, understanding, support, encouragement and the ability to laugh in the face of misunderstandings. Share the wisdom of your years of marriage with them!
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