Young people, particularly teenagers, are not leaving the Church because they are rejecting its truth. Rather, they are leaving because the Church they see does not seem relevant to their lives today. Life Teen chief executive officer and president Randy Raus, who spoke at an evening seminar held at the Pompallier Diocesan Centre on September 7, said this is what he has found in his ministry with youth.
“I believe, today, the Church has this amazing opportunity with young people because the one thing that hasn’t changed over time is that young people want to be a part of a community,” Mr Raus said.
“If the Catholic Church doesn’t offer a place that is relevant and truthful for them, they’re going to go find other communities to hang with.”
He noted those communities aren’t anywhere near as holy or safe.
“It’s not about creating safe spaces, it’s about having a community that launches the next generation of saints by people who are striving themselves to be saints,” he said.
Life Teen is a Eucharist-based youth ministry founded in 1985. Mr Raus said this ministry is currently in 10 per cent of the diocesan parishes in the United States, but 35 per cent of US seminarians cite it as a major factor in their entering the seminary. Life Teen has also
been a strong catalyst for the vocations of many women religious, he said.
“We’re just a bunch of youth ministers who feel we need to give back and help other people that work with youth to spend less time planning and more time with teenagers,” he said.
Mr Raus said teenagers are facing a much different world and set of problems from when the organisation started three decades ago.
He said teenagers today are brighter and can multitask like never before. They also live their lives on social media.
“One time, my son came to me and said, hey, Dad, I have to figure out a way on Instagram to let the world know my girlfriend broke up with me,” said Mr Raus. “He had realistically [to] think how he could honour this girl and not lose as much face as a guy that is supposed to be cool.”
He said teenagers will say things on social media that they would never say to people face-to-face.
“They spend so much time on the screen that they are losing the skill of face-to-face conversation,” he said.
Mr Raus said there’s immediate access to pornography and an opioid crisis today.
“There’s another change in culture now. We are appreciating talent at a much younger age,” he said. “Young people bring incredible gift[s] to the Church, their ability to be involved [in] music.”
He said they need to be told, “you’re not the Church of the future, you are the Church now and we want you involved”.
Mr Raus said Life Teen is trying to “be bold and even reclaim culture, not let culture dictate what is happening to teenagers, but to engage in culture”.
Life Teen will be holding its fifth summer camp in New Zealand from January 12-19 at Forest Lakes Camp in Otaki.
Wellington Young Church Ministries consultant Isabella McCafferty, who had a life-changing experience as a summer missionary in the US a few years ago, is part of a team that is coordinating the camp in New Zealand.
“We’ve come to a point where there is a huge demand and we can’t necessarily meet that demand at this stage,” she said.
“It’s a balancing act for us. I hate turning people away. We just don’t have the missionaries yet to make it possible,” she added.
Mr Raus said Life Teen is hoping to have more summer missionaries to allow them to hold two summer camps in 2020.
He said the summer camp is 70 per cent spiritual and 30 per cent fun. There is daily Mass, Reconciliation and praying.
“What we are doing is bringing the truth of the Church with love and really helping young people understand the vibrancy of our Faith,” he said.