It is a secret, practically speaking. Few Catholics know that under American law many…
Despite the storm, the future of the Church looks bright
The bad news has come like a storm. We’ve seen the dark clouds on the horizon, building slowly and ominously. And while we’ve known it was coming, we’re still surprised when it hits with full force.
Recent headlines have struck like bolts of lightning. The portion of American adults professing to be Christian is at its lowest point on record. The number of people rejecting religion altogether is growing rapidly. Fewer than half of Hispanics in the U.S. now identify as Catholic. Sixty-four percent of millennials say they attend church service no more than a few times a year. I could go on.
The sky is dark and the rain is heavy, and it doesn’t look like it will let up anytime soon. But occasionally, even in the middle of a storm, the clouds part and light pierces the darkness.
Outside of Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, the clouds were low and pelting the city with a cold November rain. Inside, however, the promise of brighter days ahead was evident.
On Nov. 21-23, more than 20,000 young Catholics gathered for the National Catholic Youth Conference, an event held every other year for the young Church to come together to strengthen its foundation of faith through friendship and support, through prayer and song, through the liturgy, and through inspiring testimony from dozens of youth leaders, clergymen, religious men and women, and others, including Pope Francis, who delivered a recorded video message during the opening session.
“I send you an affectionate greeting and my prayers at this moment of encounter that you are living,” he said. “May it be an opportunity to deepen your faith and communion. May it light your missionary hearts with the courage and strength to live in and with the Lord always as a Church sent forth.”
Pope Francis acknowledged something in his message that too often goes unnoticed by those of us who are older. These young people have felt the floodwaters rising — maybe more than we have. They’re sloshing through the storm right along with us — head down and leaning into the wind as they walk their faith journeys. They have friends whom they used to see regularly at Mass and youth group events, and now they’re just familiar faces in a sea of people passing by in the opposite direction in the school hallways.
“You know from your everyday life that many are alone, that many do not know Jesus,” Pope Francis told the crowd. “Go — go and take the world with you. Go and fill your surroundings, even the digital ones. Not of convictions. Not to convince others. Not to proselytize. But to bear witness of the tenderness and mercy of Jesus.”
Following Pope Francis’ message, Bishop Nelson J. Perez of the Diocese of Cleveland spoke to the crowd, and as the stadium went dark, he implored the young people to take out their cellphones and turn on their flashlights. The stadium lit up like a star-filled night sky.
“Everybody look around at all these lights,” Bishop Perez said. “Remember what Jesus said: You are the light of the world. Do not, do not, do not let anybody put your light under a bushel basket. Do not let anybody extinguish your light. Do not let anybody rob you of the gift and the treasure of your faith and your dignity and your love.”
While Christ’s presence was felt throughout the conference, one of the most powerful moments of the weekend came when Father Josh Johnson of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, entered the arena holding aloft the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to begin adoration. On the weekend of the solemnity of Christ the King, 20,000 teenagers fell to their knees to honor the king of the world — and they stayed there for the better part of an hour, kneeling on the cold concrete, hands folded in prayer, many wiping tears from their eyes.
It did not look like a group of young people who had lost their faith, said Katie Prejean McGrady, a Catholic author and speaker who served as one of the event’s emcees, speaking of the dark clouds surrounding the Church. She told the crowd that the culture says young people don’t believe in God anymore, that the Church is dying.
And with a storm brewing outside, she told the crowd what was evident to those sheltered inside: “It’s not true. Look around. The Church is going to be just fine. The Church is fine.”
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.