There’s bad news and there’s good news. First, the bad news — which has been out there for some time: the Catholic Church is hemorrhaging her young members at an alarming rate.
Recent ongoing studies show that 80 percent of Catholic young people will have left the Church by the time that they turn 23 years of age. Of all the Catholic children baptized or confirmed in the last 30 years, half no longer practice the faith. These self-identify as “nones,” i.e. claiming no religious affiliation. Statistically, the “nones” are now the fastest growing “religious” group in America.
Here are some startling statistics from Sherry Weddell’s book “Forming Intentional Disciples”:
— Only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing.
— Ten percent of all adults in America are ex-Catholics.
— Nearly 80 percent of cradle Catholics are no longer Catholic by the age of 23.
How did this happen? The answer is best described as a “perfect storm.” Ours is a militantly secularist society. The secularizing of American culture did not just happen. Secularism is a political goal. With God out of the picture, we are much more malleable to the state. We become dependent on the state instead of God. This is the reason that atheism had to be inculcated in the people by the great totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.
Add to this the fact that two generations of Catholics have, for the most part, been lost to the faith in the last half-century. Poor — or non-existent — catechesis has provided no means of combating the mounting secularism or of passing on the faith to the next generations.
In addition — and perhaps this is the most significant — the great majority of those who identify as either Catholic or formerly Catholic claim never to have had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some knew their doctrine, but had never met the person of Jesus. They have not experienced his love for them, especially as that has been expressed in Christ’s sacrificial death for our salvation. Being an authentic Christian means wanting to be with God forever — wanting union with him more than anything in this world. With God or his Son Jesus having little or no relevance, it is to the world that young people look for their ultimate happiness.
But, there’s good news! Our faith tells us that God has not abandoned the world. His grace is still available to any who look to him. One of the most effective channels of God’s grace in our country today is the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
Founded 20 years ago and headquartered in our own state of Colorado, FOCUS today boasts more than 660 young missionaries on 137 of our college campuses. These young Catholic missionaries are trained in Church teaching, prayer, Sacred Scripture, evangelization and discipleship. They give themselves full-time to encountering college students in friendship and inviting them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. FOCUS missionaries have been transformed by their relationship with Jesus and strive to lead other young people to that same experience — and it’s working!
Two weeks ago I attended the biennial gathering of FOCUS missionaries and young Catholic leaders. More than 8,000 young Catholics were in attendance. They were on fire for Christ and his Church. I had the opportunity to visit with the missionaries working on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In every way these are normal young people — except for the fact that they have met Jesus Christ and know it. Their lives have been changed, and they couldn’t be happier.
I have invited FOCUS missionaries to come to our diocese to assist Father Kyle Ingels in his campus ministry. We hope to have them in the fall. The theme of this year’s FOCUS gathering is “Deeper in Christ — Deeper in Mission.” Only by going deeper in Christ and deeper in mission can we ever become the world-changers that he calls us to be. What a magnificent gift FOCUS will be to the young people of this diocese!