Back to January 2012, the Sector Assembly in Zambia came up with the following questions; “Why the Catholic youth are leaving the Catholic Church? How can we respond to it as a Missionary Society?” Those questions were also discussed among pastoral animators at the Archdiocese of Lusaka. Youths from different parishes were similarly commissioned to reflect about them. Moreover, at the Lusaka South Deanery level, youth animators and youth coordinators were complaining about the dawnfall of the youths at St. Lawrence Parish, Lusaka.
A questionnaire drafted by Fr. Bernhard Udelhoven was shared among the youths. With the exception of Western Deanery, they unfortunately expressed little interest.
To come to a better understanding, I visited three other churches around our Parish so as to compare the behaviour of the youth towards church activities. It transpired that it is an overall problem among all Churches. A pastor once said; “We do a lot to get youths to our Church from all other Churches. But, as for keeping them for good, it is a real challenge and little is done towards that.”
Perception of the problem by different Churches.
I approached some Pastors in the hope of getting in touch with their youths. However, I was perceived as someone looking for ways to pull youths from them. But some families who were concerned about the future of their youth welcomed the idea. I therefore met the Boys and Girls Brigade from the United Church of Zambia (UCZ), the youth of a Pentecostal Church namely “Issachar Church of Love” and the youth of the Catholic Church.
For many Catholics, the migration to other Churches is perceived like ‘hunting’ from other Churches while other Churches perceive the fact that their youth are leaving as an act of maturity or revolt. For the Pentecostal, the situation is not alarming. For the Boys and Girls Brigade of UCZ, the leaders realized that many young people are dropping or engage themselves in bad behaviours. Few boys and girls go through the full length of their formation program.
A) Ignorance of the Catholic faith: most people who left the Church claimed they lived their Catholic faith in ignorance. For many, the teaching of the Church seemed difficult to understand.
B) Challenge on knowledge of biblical texts: there was no real challenge from other Churches apart from the knowledge of biblical texts.
C) Few programs on faith for the Youth: there are very few programs that can help the youths to discover their faith and how to articulate it.
D) Lack of seriousness towards youth ministry: there is a lack of seriousness towards youth ministry.
E) Inadequate formation: There is inadequate formation during the catechism time to face the different challenges brought up by different Churches.
F) Act of maturity: leaving the Church can be understand as an act of maturity or discovery.
G) Peer Pressure: our youths join other Churches without much understanding of the church they want to go. Better financial support for youth activities in those Churches attract them.
H) Marriages: many youths leave the Catholic Church in search of husbands or wives because they believe most of the ladies or men from our Church are not serious towards each other.
I) Lack of Employment: Some youths leave our Church to join other Churches where they are promised employment.
Our initiations and ongoing formation to Christian life.
Among the reasons that pushed many youths away from the Catholic Church is the ability to express their faith in different forums and encounters. However, we need to take into consideration that all Catholics are affected by this. Nowadays, we live in a mixed society where we share our daily activities with other denominations.
Our catechism classes.
If the Church acknowledges the importance of infant baptism, there is a serious call today to look at what we offer in preparation to receive the first communion. We seem to do better to prepare them for the sacrament of confirmation even though some are confirmed very young without a real understanding of what the Catholic faith is. As a result, many fail to answer simple questions about their faith.
Ongoing formation after catechism classes: is it enough to baptise and to confirm?
Many youths find no follow up after their catechism classes and slowly desert the Catholic Church for other Churches where they feel to be listened to. They are taught how to pray spontaneously. They are taught how to formulate their prayer intentions from deep within themselves whereby their can express their emotions.
Therefore, what do we offer to the youths after baptism and confirmation to help them to deepen their faith? Are they only singing with conviction at Mass or at choir festivals?
There is a cry today from youth to integrate their faith with daily activities and new ventures while coping with social pressure.
Lack of parental support and guidance.
Only a few parents are interested in the formation of their children. The family unit as a place of education is missing. Little is done at home to help them to grow and mature their faith.
– The role of god-parents: they are chosen among the faithful to accompany newly baptised and new catechumen on their life of faith and social life. I wonder how many understand their role and how seriously they take it. Some are not even known by or in contact anymore with the god-child. Some god-parents have a large number of god-children every year. Do they have time to visit them at least once a year?
– Lack of care by the authorities: youths seem to be left alone. The care from Church’s authorities seems to be missing which brings a feeling of being considered less important. To this effect, youths are easily asked to cancel their activities, even though planned for months, because of an event at parish level judged to be more important.
– Fear of the parents: meetings are held separately with the youth because of a cultural tradition where they can’t express their views in front of their parents and elders. Consequently, there is little space to integrate youths in decision making process.
Leaving the churches as an act of revolt or an act of maturity.
A visit to a UCZ family offered me an opportunity to see how this family unit lives in harmony despite the fact that the members go to different churches. The husband was a Catholic but joined his wife to pray at the UCZ. Two of their daughters go to different churches. One is Catholic and the other one is a Jehovah Witness. The last three are still praying with the parents at UCZ.
The parents consider the choice of their children as an act of maturity and a constant search for Gods’ call. All children are respected and supported when faced with challenges. The daughter who goes to the Catholic Church wants to join sisterhood. The other daughter became a Jehovah Witnesses because of her marriage.
A former seminarian told me that he was very spiritual when he joined the seminary but could not fit. Today, he is a leader in one of the new Episcopal Pentecost Churches. He believes that Catholic leaders are keeping too much from the faithful. According to him, people should be educate in prayer life and be allowed to express their talents.
How attentive are we towards people’s spiritual growth? Even without any theological studies, can our youths express themselves whether in prayer or in any other activity?
The saddest part of all my encounters was with those who left the Catholic Church as an act of revolt because of personal grudges with a leader or someone in authority. Many youth claim they were not really cared for in time of sickness, funeral and other life events. Sickness constitutes one of the main factors whereby many search for a miracle. Prayers from Pentecostal Pastors where they are promised to be cured and to become healthy are very attractive. A visit to one of our former altar boys shows how deep rooted these Pentecostal prayers are and how people are in despair for them. At Samson’s place, I found him with five of his friends praying passionately for more than an hour. How do we answer this thirst of spirituality of our youth who are nurtured by other Churches?
Many youths today remain at home as they feel out of place or not accepted by their fellow youths because of different events of life such as pregnancy and marriages. Others left the Church because of certain rules related to the age one should be an altar boy or part of ‘holy childhood’.
Our liturgical celebration.
Some who left the Catholic Church complain that our celebrations are boring, repetitive and at times too long. They questioned the interpretation of the biblical text. They feel the interpretation of the bible is too restrictive and that they should be given room to interpret what they feel or understand of the text.
All along my pastoral experience with the youths, including those who feel out of place, I tried to understand this phenomena. Some youths are simply in search of social activities while others look for adult’s presence, support and care.
- Visitations to youths during their various activities and those facing serious challenges in their families.
- To support the growth of spiritual life within families as a way to integrate our pastoral care for the youth.
- Participation in their spiritual and social activities.
- Better understanding of the role or duties of god-parents.
- Reviewing our catechism program and organise ongoing formation about our Catholic faith and the social teaching of the Church.
- Strengthening the youth groups by allowing them to take an active participation in different activities. Leaders should not be doing things for them, instead they should be doing it with them.