Q&A: The Future of the Catholic Church

Q&A: The Future of the Catholic Church



Founder of Divine Renovation, Episcopal Vicar for Parish Renewal and leadership support for the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, Nova Scotia



Director of the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission at Archdiocese of Chicago



Jesuit priest and anthropologist, executive secretary of the International Federation of Fe y Alegría

Q: On Catholicism in Today’s Religious Landscape 01

FR. MARCO: Latin American countries have always been religious. Its inhabitants are sensitive to religion / spirituality, and our social, cultural and even political practices are highly influenced by this. Of course, having been colonized by European political powers, self-professed Catholic countries at that time, the role of the Catholic Church in the construction of our countries and our culture has been indeed important. The relationship between Church and state was and still is intrinsic. Although the majority of Latin Americans still identifies as Catholic, over the years, especially since the last decade of the 20th century, the religious landscape has evolved and is more varied.

FR. PETER: Several things bring young people to the Catholic Church. First, is the sense of tradition and history. The Catholic Church is founded on scripture (the Word of God) and tradition (the Apostolic tradition), and young people are intrigued by a Church that has an unbroken tradition of proclaiming Jesus Christ. Second, as Catholics, we believe that when we pray, we are not only joined by those around us but also by a great communion of saints, holy men and women who preceded us on the journey to God and who intercede for us. Many young adults appreciate the idea that we cannot only ask our family and friends to pray for us to God, but that we can also ask saints to join our prayer and offer their intercession. Third, young people appreciate the sacrament of reconciliation. As a priest, I live in a part of the city that is super young. Every week I hear confessions, and I am always amazed by a long line of people in their 20s, waiting to receive this special grace. I take great hope in that movement as it reveals that a growing number of young adults are tired of being self-justified and now seek God’s mercy, God’s grace and God’s help to overcome their struggle and grow in holiness.

Q: On Drawing Young People Toward the Life of the Church 02

FR. MARCO: If they see that faith and church participation connect to real life issues and aim to contribute in solving them—especially in countries where the political environment is clouded with authoritarianism, a decline in participatory democracy and the right to speak out—they will engage in a more genuine and enthusiastic way in church life. I see them participating in activities that put them in contact and in service to the poor or the marginalized of our societies. I see them active in advocacy efforts to bring justice to unjust situations. Their participation in liturgy, often seen as boring, unnecessary and outdated, will be more active, more conscious and joyful, as it will mean something more than bench-warming. They will then feel eager to know more about the fundamentals of faith and begin a process of formation.

FR. JAMES: There’s never been a more difficult time for teenagers to try to be faithful. Churches should aim for the parents. If you start building a culture of evangelizing parents, then there’s a whole group of young people that are going to grow up in a different environment. From there, young people who are exposed not only to their parents, but also to their parents’ peers who have an authentic, living faith and to people their own age who have a faith—these are the relationships that will help bring young people to church and keep them there.

Q: On Repairing the Damage of Abuse & Scandal 03

FR. MARCO: The sex abuse scandals among priests and other church officials has hurt the fundamental basis of trust in those who lead. Of course, there is a sense of deceit and profound disapproval, as the issue is fundamentally a matter of justice. Much needs to be done, but the Catholic Church has started to take steps. The first one is to acknowledge that abuse has been happening, it has been covered up systematically, and something needs to be done to put an end to it.

There is a serious effort to identify the sources of abuse and to promote the creation and sustainment of a culture of protection and well-being for children, adolescents and vulnerable adults. Albeit, one would want all of this to be more widespread; there is still a sense of lag and lack of effective response to end this evil.

FR. PETER: One of the most critical things that the Catholic communities have to do is be clear about the progress we have made over the last years when it comes to the safety of children in our churches. I think young people want to make sure that we are open, honest and clear about what was done wrong, who committed the crime and what’s our way forward. Another important element of moving forward is to ensure that our leadership in the Church is diversified and reflects both men and women, taking on ordained and lay leadership roles and keeping each other accountable. I am blessed to work in Chicago where we not only put those words to action but also attracted a good number of young people to work with us as leaders in a number of ministries of the Archdiocese.

Q: On Openness to the Church in the Connected Generation 04

FR. MARCO: There is an openness to be and to let others be who they want to be. In this sense, most young adults have a respect for what others believe, particularly when they see a true and honest effort to be coherent with those beliefs. Non-Christians in Latin America still live and develop in a mostly Christian society. They chose not to adhere to organized religion or practices, but that does not mean they are disconnected from it entirely. They perceive honesty and truth when they see it in acts, not words. In countries where the Catholic Church has been active and vocal in regard to denouncing injustice, non-Christians tend to appreciate and value it. It is common to hear, “I do not believe in religion, but I show my respect, and hats off to those who fight for justice.”

FR. JAMES: Millennials aren’t going to respond to some mass appeal, some big campaign. It’s going to be rooted in relationships and friendship. We’re seeing young people who had no background in the Church encountering the Lord and having an experience of God’s love and friendship, and then saying, “Okay, now I’m willing to look at this Church thing.” They may still struggle, they might have issues, they might think the Church is crazy on this issue or that issue, but they’re willing to look at it.

FR. PETER: As St. Augustine said, our hearts long for God and are restless without him. Young people are not any different than the people of the past. They want to have big dreams, build successful lives and love with all their hearts. They also know there is more to life than this, and Christianity—or more importantly, life in Jesus—gives us the answer. I do think that young people, both in [my former home of ] Poland and the U.S., are attracted by authenticity, holiness and natural goodness. Holiness attracts. Hence, Christianity will always attract people.

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