Role of the Youth in the Catholic Church
By Fr Dominic Mwanzia
It gives me great joy to write this article on the youth at a time when the Catholic Church is focusing special attention on young people. I am excited and envisage that this move will bring forth a renewed relationship between the Catholic Church and young people.
We have all heard it said that the youth are the future of the Church, but aren’t they also the face of the present church?
The teaching of the Church is clear, that through baptism we become members of Christ’s holy Church. Therefore the young people are disciples too; perhaps one of the best human resource available today to the Church.
The question that guides my reflection in this article is “What is happening in the world of young people, and what is their role in the Church?
We see youth of different ages attending Sunday worship. A good number of them have received the sacrament of Christian initiation (Baptism, confirmation and Eucharist) while others have not received the confirmation or the first Holy Communion.
There are those who were once attending Catholic Church, but have left. There are also those who do not attend Church regularly. It is also observable that a good number of the youth do not receive the sacrament of confession and Holy Communion.
It is evident that a good proportion of the youth feel included in the life of the parish, altar serving, and leading prayers etc. However, there is need for increased involvement in the liturgical celebrations.
For instance, why can’t they be more involved in the choir? Music is something that an average young person likes. Therefore, when vivacious music is absent in the liturgy, the youth may feel estranged from liturgical celebrations.
They will easily get bored if the hymns are not appealing. While they want homilies to be short, they are also concerned that some priests while preaching do not address them. They feel forgotten in the crowd. They need homilies that they relate with their everyday life. Masses for youth need to be enjoyable and lively.
Homilies that are not based on the Scriptures, or simply narrating stories and telling stories that have no connection to the readings, are a disappointment to the youth.
As regards integration into the faith community, for instance in Small Christian Communities, the members may be welcoming, but the youth feel uncomfortable within such traditional groups.
Sometimes, they complain of being treated like children. They need to be helped to overcome the feeling that they are not the main stream of the Church, but rather a minority group. This sentiment can be counteracted by engaging the youth in the activities of the Church.
The poor involvement of youth in Church activities is sometimes due to poor faith formation. The formation given in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation, First Holy Communion and Confirmation may be inadequate.
Sometimes the youth are not given tasks that can challenge them as Catholics. For instance young people need to be engaged in the promotion of justice and peace. This could include helping the needy in the neighborhood and beyond.
Activities such as visiting orphans, children, and elderly, sick and homeless are practical ways in which the youth can serve the Church and society. The youth are often, not offered the opportunity to learn social teachings of the Church. With the radical transformations that violate the gospel values taking place in the world today,, the youth can be great agents of change if well equipped to face these challenges. This can be done through a good doctrinal formation on the social doctrines of the Church.
Another thing that can make the youth feel more welcome and appreciated is by assigning them the ushers’ ministry.
While it is good that adults exercise this ministry, the youth can also welcome people, help the faithful to find seats, collect offerings, ensure an orderly procession to communion and clean the Church after the Holy Mass.
This could help them to discover their values and promote communion in the faith community. The youth want to be involved in Church but occasionally, it can happen that they are not given space and time to do it.
I have observed a section of the youth who when they come to Church, stand at the door and follow the Holy Mass from there. Others leave before the Church announcements are done.
Are these not signals that they feel excluded from the faith community?
Though the young people may be very enthusiastic about ministering in the Church, criticism can hinder them doing so. They might like to attend liturgical celebrations, but criticism can make them feel demoralized.
The emotional development of the youth is coupled with heightened sensitivity to other people’s comments. It is necessary to correct them, but do it gently and pleasantly. Our prudential responses will help them preserve their own inner stability, and feel loved and welcomed in the Church.
The youth want friendships. They will want to spend time with friends. They want to do trips and build friendships with other Catholics. Parishes need to come up with programs that can promote social activities that give the youth opportunities to socialize with youth from other Catholic Churches.
In my limited experience I have observed that the youth like hanging around the Church compounds over the weekend and specifically after the celebration of the Holy Mass on Sunday. You find them engaging in conversations and they don’t seem to be hurry to go home. That’s because being with friends and making new friends is very much dear to their heart.
In conclusion, I want reiterate that the youth are not the just future members of the Catholic Church as presented in some forums. They are the Church now, today.
Catholic Church leaders have to harness this potential by means of forming the youth to be co-workers of Christ. Youth enjoy certain advantages that can make them effective in Catholic Church’s pastoral care.
They are practical, relational, enthusiastic and creative. Lastly, because they are not dry and boring, they are effective intermediaries of the Holy Spirit.
Fr Dominic Mwanzia is a Camillian priest and lecturer at Tangaza University College, Pastoral Theology Department