Los Angeles bishop and evangelist Robert Barron has said church leaders need to prioritise bringing young people who have left back to the Catholic Church.
Bishop Barron is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelisation and Catechesis. He is known for his popular Catholic website, “Word on Fire,” and for hosting the documentary series “Catholicism.”
“It breaks your heart to realise we haven’t communicated our tradition effectively,” he said. “We have to beef up the intellectual content of our religion classes in Catholic schools, our religious education programs, RCIA, confirmation preparation, etc.”
He was speaking during a general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore on 11 November 2019. He offered a five-step plan to bring the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” back to the Church.
Firstly, he said, the Church should get young people involved in social justice projects, such as working in soup kitchens, prison ministries and helping the homeless.
Leaders can reinforce this by reiterating messages on social justice from Popes Leo XIII to Francis. From there, he said, the Church should promote its own writers and artists to communicate the beauty of the Catholic faith.
Another key step – and he said he’s been “banging this drum for a long time” – is to stop dumbing down the faith.
The bishop said young Catholics-indeed, those of any age-should be able to articulate why they believe what they do.
In his own ministry, he said he has been asked very basic questions, particularly on the “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) feature on Reddit, about faith, including: “Who is God and can you prove he exists? Can you explain evil and how do you know that your religion is right?”
On the parish level, Catholics need to start seeing their parishes as missionary fields. This especially holds true with reaching out to young people because, as Bishop Barron said, “Young people aren’t going to come to us; we have to go out to them.”
The bishop’s last point concerned using social media effectively.
“We should invest lot of time and money to get really good people to work our social media, suggesting that parishes, or even groups of parishes, hire someone to do effective social ministry outreach,” he said.
His presentation prompted more than one hour of discussion, with bishops all in agreement that the drop in church numbers is a deep concern. Various possibilities were discussed to combat it, such as increased devotion to Mary and opportunities for mission work.
The bishop brought three lay leaders to the podium to help with the discussion, including Brandon Vogt, author and content director for “Word on Fire.”
Vogt echoed the bishop’s point that young people leaving the church is a “huge crisis.” For every one person who comes into the church, six and a half walk out the back door, he said, underlining the need not only to plug the hole but to “look for those who left.”
He also suggested that, just as parishes and dioceses have staff members working on abuse situation, someone should be working at the local level just to reach out to those who left the church.
“If it’s a priority, lets emphasise it with resources,” he added.
In a news conference after the presentation, Bishop Barron said he was not surprised by the lengthy conversation about bringing people back to church.
When he first brought up this topic last spring, he said, he was supposed to have just 10 minutes-but the discussion lasted an hour.
Picture: Bishop Robert Barron (Word On Fire)