Gen Y free for anything except belonging

Gen Y free for anything except belongingAn article in the latest issue of Time magazine places Pope Benedict XVI in the centre of the "clash of civilisations". His trip to Turkey this week, it's argued, is part of the Pope's tougher stance in combating militant Islam, exemplified in the comments he made in his Regensburg address.

But if the Regensburg speech showed anything, it's that the Catholic Church doesn't seem as concerned with this cultural clash as it is with a battle for western civilisation itself. In recent meetings between the Pope and the heads of the Anglican Church and Eastern Churches, the Pope has spelled out that the biggest foe facing Christians around the world isn't Islam—it's secularism.

A recent survey in Australia, titled The Spirit of Generation Y, has highlighted some worrying trends concerning the faith of young people. Even among those young people calling themselves Catholic (around 18 per cent of Gen Y), faith is no longer directing people's lives the way it once did.

According to the survey, around 75 per cent of young Catholics believe it's OK to "pick and choose" beliefs without accepting the teachings of their religion as a whole, while 56 per cent believe morals are relative. Cardinal George Pell, speaking recently at a Catholic education conference, said that more and more young people "seem to believe that life offers a smorgasbord of options from which they choose items that best suit their passing fancies and their changing circumstances".

What is more meaningful, however, is that the report found Generation Y's beliefs differed only slightly from Generation X, and from the Boomers before them. It highlighted a gradual decline in faith that has been in progress since the '60s.

Redemptorist Fr Michael Mason, a researcher from Australian Catholic University (ACU) and one of the authors of the report, says "young people are what their elders have made them".

He says since the '60s, there seems to have been a concerted campaign to take authority away from institutions like the church, government, and the media. The Catholic faith-based traditions of previous generations have been replaced by a skeptical, cynical and narrowly empirical view of life. The consequence is that young people don't trust anything that they can't verify through their own experience, or through "science" in an empirical sense.

The erosion of tradition means that many young people aren't having faith passed down from their parents. They are taught a moral code of how to live, but it's one that doesn't necessarily draw on any greater ethical structures. Where once Catholic faith played an important part in people's choices—from who they voted for, to where they went on a Saturday night—fewer and fewer people today are taking heed of that faith in even the most important aspects of their lives, like relationships and marriage.

Gen Y free for anything except belongingIt's difficult to imagine society reverting to an older, church-centric model. So, given the way things are, how can young people be encouraged to take the leap and embrace what faith can offer them?

Enrolment levels in Catholic schools remain strong, and in many ways these institutions have replaced parishes as the Church's front line. People involved in Catholic education, like Cardinal Pell and Sydney CEO Br Kelvin Canavan, say schools can try and provide more spaces for young people to encounter God. They argue that traditional Catholic practices like prayer and devotion are less obvious now in Catholic parishes and schools, and so more opportunities need to be provided for young people to experience them.

Indeed, schools are already providing opportunities for students to undertake sacraments, and take part in liturgies, retreat experiences, and prayer groups. However, for the majority of young people who don't buy into traditional, institutionalised expressions of religion such as going to Mass, it's hard to encourage them to explore something beyond their 'normal' experience.

Pope Benedict's response to the dilemma of our times is to appeal to reason. Reason, not scientific empiricism, is what guides people to live a moral life. A person guided by reason can accept faith, God, and his vision for the world through Jesus, without needing empirical proof of God's existence. Reason, too, can ensure faith is something that is life-giving, rather than something that promotes violence and hate.

The task for the Catholic Church, then, is to encourage young people to ask questions about the world around them and their own place in it, and be guided by the reason that God gave them to search for the truth in communion with others.



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