Youth are desperate for the Church to offer them faith and meaning

Youth are desperate for the Church to offer them faith and meaning

During the recent visit of Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops to Ireland, I had the great privilege to participate in a focus group meeting with various representatives of the Church’s life in Ireland. Drawing from a synodal framework, the group included female religious, priests, a deacon, a Catholic journalist, a catechist, and the cardinal. The diversity of the group allowed for a truly dynamic discussion surrounding the many issues facing the contemporary Church in Ireland as the cardinal listened intensely and offered some insights from a synodal standpoint.

Having just undertaken two full days of conferences in Knock before returning to Dublin, the first thing that struck me about the cardinal was the immeasurable stamina by which he was able to tackle all the issues presented to him with enthusiasm and sincerity. There was no sense that merely ‘ticking boxes’ was on his agenda, this was a man who meant what he said and was open to dialogue, a genuine example of the synod in action.


In response to the various issues that were presented to him, the cardinal’s message remained consistent; “Go and do it” he repeated. In other words, “Go and live the Christian message now”, don’t wait for some epiphany from this or that meeting in Rome, or for some hypothetical opportune moment within the culture, the time is now, in fact the time has always been now to be an evangelising Church. The Christian mission to “Go and make disciples of all nations” is as immediate in its challenge now as it was when Christ commanded it. With his repeated mantra “Go and do it”, the cardinal was reminding all present that our shared baptismal calling, regardless of rank or place in the Church, is to actively partake in its evangelical mission, not in some imaginary time in the future when it will be easier, but to face the challenges of the secular age with confidence.

For this to be materialised however, the largest cohort which makes up the body of Church, the laity, needs to be adequately formed in the faith in order to truly live it out and give witness to it in the modern world. The idea that ‘professional religion’ is the remit of priests and nuns is no longer a viable one. With the highest literacy rates and access to education that has ever existed in the Western world, we now for the first time in our civilisation have the capacity for an informed and educated laity. In fact, the demands of pluralist society necessitate it.

The number one existential place people are going to upon leaving Catholicism is the ‘no-religion’ grouping”

Another Cardinal, John Henry Newman, recognised in the late 19th Century that the impending secularism would need a laity who do not just “know their creed, but can give an account of it”. If people do not have the ability to “defend their faith” in public life as St Peter urges in the Scriptures, the pressures presented by secularism runs the risk of pushing people away from religion. This is not just speculative opinion, the reality of this situation is already present in our society, in fact the number one existential place people are going to upon leaving Catholicism is the ‘no-religion’ grouping. This is now the second largest religious grouping in Ireland at 14% and alarmingly in England at 37.2%.

A thorough evaluation of our catechetical structures is therefore required to assess the quality of the faith formation we offer our people at all ages. How is it possible for example that in Ireland which has over 90% of its schools under a Catholic ethos, also found its laity severely lacking in faith formation as established in the recent national synodal process?

One key area in this regard acknowledged by Cardinal Grech, is the Church’s deficiency in its digital evangelisation efforts. This is why, as Cardinal Grech highlighted, Pope Francis has listed it as one of the key priorities for the universal synodal process. A recent survey carried out in the US found that 97% of young people use social media platforms daily, while 46% admitted to using them almost constantly. If Irish statistics on this issue are anything similar to that of the US, this perhaps in part explains why, according to a survey carried out by Amarách, only 8% of those under 35 in Ireland have even heard about the synodal pathway. We are quite literally living through a new age of communication more revolutionary than the invention of the printing press. The challenge for the Church, therefore, is to engage with these platforms or otherwise run the risk of being invisible to an entire generation of people.


In my own youth ministry work, one consistent remark I hear from young adults involved in the life of the Church is that they received their faith formation not from their parishes, families, or Catholic schools, but from online sources such as Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire or other similar US Catholic figures. In the Irish context, we need to engage with these online platforms and tell the story of the Church in Ireland before we become invisible or forgotten by our own people. As Cardinal Grech challenged in his action-oriented framework, we must simply “Go and do it” and not wait for others to do it for us.

In a post-scandal Church however, the younger generations with whom I work with in ministry, describe a Church that is virtually not present in the culture and dogmatically timid”

Another significant element very clearly on display from both the focus group discussion and in the realities present in the local synods, was the vastly different experience of Church amongst the age dynamic of participants. Older generations, which if Amárach’s statistics are correct, made up a significant majority of synodal participants, described a Church that is unrecognisable to younger Catholics. This is a Church that was dogmatically oppressive and culturally dominant. Having grown up in a post-scandal Church however, the younger generations with whom I work with in ministry, describe a Church that is virtually not present in the culture and dogmatically timid, to the point of being understood as relativistic.


On the one hand, much of the older generations, who received a basic catechesis in their youth, called for a Church that was more in tune with social-justice issues and pastoral concerns, while younger people coming from an un-catechised background and a relativist-secular world are desperate for the Church to offer them faith and meaning.

The challenge therefore is for the Church to hear both of these voices within the generational gap but reach out with confidence to a new generation of people who are not only pre-catechised but pre-evangelised that are searching for truth and direction. The dominance of secularism has become a force for many in which they cannot withstand the challenges presented to them about the faith. This once again points to the great need to provide spaces to educate and form our laity, as Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Grech so greatly encouraged.

Eoin McCormack is a Catechist and Pastoral Worker in the parish of Rathmines, Dublin.