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The time has come to start meeting with young Catholics

Michael Kearns looks at evangelisation for the Scottish Network of Catholic Students in this month’s FAITH BY DEGREES column

This is our final Faith by Degrees for the academic year, to reconvene after summer. I hope that readers enjoy these monthly insights from Catholic students, and that a fuller picture is being drawn of a thriving area of the Church’s life in this country.

Within the Scottish Catholic Network of Student (SNCS), there are a diversity of older, more established chaplaincies as well as brand new, fledgling outfits, with others lying on the spectrum in between. What is uniform, however, is that the story of student Catholicism in Scotland in 2016 is becoming an unbridled success. I cannot stress enough that in an age where ‘managing decline’ is often accepted as an inevitability for Christians in Scotland, we are experiencing on campuses something truly counter-cultural, evangelistic and extraordinary.

None of the following is unique to me; rather, it is becoming the template for successful Catholic student formation all over the country.  It became clear to me after starting university in 2013, that the chaplaincy was something speciaI. I had always been a weekly Massgoer and a proud Catholic, but having experienced what I have done since then I look back and can only think of how impoverished my Catholicism would have remained if not for the chaplaincy. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, you are given an opportunity to grow in your Faith publicly and personally alongside others at a very similar stage.

This is an opportunity not replicated in many other situations I can think of. In most parishes, we only see each other at Sunday Mass; in our Catholic schools, much of the focus of daily life is naturally on the academic subjects, and in any case teenagers—though very often in possession of an authentic, hopeful trust in God and love of neighbour—simply do not make God a talking point, for fear of ridicule, unwanted debate, or offending the zeitgeist.

At the chaplaincy, however, you are in daily contact with peers with whom you are free to talk about football, exams, the best club nights in Glasgow, tips on how to make a good confession, anecdotes about particular saints’ prayer power, interesting areas of Church teaching, whatever. Because young people have a regular daily setting with their peers which has God as its basis and not just as some added cultural extra, this represents the first complete normalisation and full embrace of their Catholic faith. This is an absolutely crucial step, the personal spiritual development and formation takes off like a rocket from here.

Secondly, to quote Pope Francis, ‘you can not know Jesus without His Church.’ My experience at university has given me, and my peers, a level of catechesis which I struggle to imagine could be better. This is absolutely critical if we want young people who care about building up the Church.

Last summer, on an SNCS pilgrimage in Rome, we were told by Archbishop Fisichella, Pope Francis’ man responsible for coordinating the whole New Evangelisation project, that it is no accident that his dicastery deals primarily with catechesis and with the Year of Mercy. You cannot separate, he said, Mercy, catechesis and Evangelisation. None will work properly without the other two. Also in Rome, Cardinal Muller, prefect of the CDF, made clear to us young Scots that ‘doctrine is not a barrier to our relationship with Christ; rather, it is a necessary and constitutive element of that relationship.’

I can testify in the clearest possible terms the reality of this on the ground. You will struggle to find in this country a ‘lapsed’ or agnostic young Catholic who has any serious understanding of virtually anything that the Church actually teaches. A friend of mine, highly intelligent, Catholic-school educated and who only eventually gave up on Mass in their very late teens, recently refused to believe me when I mentioned to them that the Church teaches that the Eucharist is literally Jesus’ body and not just blessed bread. On the flip side, the most enthusiastic and devout of my peers that I know are not just well catechised in a formal sense, but they are confident and personally very sure of the truth of what they believe. If Faith, hope and charity are eternal Truths, then let’s not shy away from eternal Truth asean holistic concept. If we want to re-Evangelise Scotland’s youth, let’s properly teach them the Faith, in its uncompromised fullness and beauty.

And this is why focusing on our youth is such a pastoral priority. In an era where every Diocese looks to reallocate and rationalise its resources, many of us are now happy to make a plea for youth and student ministry to be one of the foundations upon which we will win souls back for Christ in the 21st century. Jesus, as we know, ‘met people where they were’, and Pope Francis has been clear about the Church needing to go out from comfort and familiarity and onto the streets if we are going to evangelise in the modern age. The sad fact is that few young people can now be found in churches. They are, however, in schools, colleges and universities.

To build up a future for the Church in Scotland, we need to start with meeting this generation where it is, to give as many young people as possible—not just at the established universities but everywhere—a setting where peer support and Faithful catechesis will bring them back into those churches and back to God. This is not a wing and a prayer. It is, as the students in the network’s societies can tell you, already a reality. Let’s support and widen this successful model of Evangelisation as soon as we can.

 

—What do you think about this new monthly section in the SCO? Have your say on the Scottish Network of Catholic Students Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/scotncs. This column will resume after the summer.

 

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