At the annual United States Conference of Catholic Bishops general meeting this month in Baltimore, Bishop Robert Barron gave a presentation on reaching out to those who are religiously unaffiliated. Bishop Barron, chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, suggested five paths.
• First, get young people involved in the works of justice. They don’t resonate with the Church’s teachings on sexuality, but they do resonate with her teachings on justice. He suggests that we lead with this — the path of justice. Talk to them about Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Saint Teresa, St. Francis. Get them involved themselves in works of justice. That will link them to the Church and keep them in the Church.
• Second, use the way of beauty. Don’t just tell them what to think and do, show them. Just look at the Sistine Chapel. Just read Dante and Flannery O’Connor’s stories. We have a great tradition of beauty within our Catholic heritage. Young people respond readily to it. How beautiful are our churches; how beautiful are our liturgical spaces; how beautiful are our websites?
• Third, stop dumbing down the faith. This is the intellectual path. Young people have so many questions that are unanswered for them. Who is God? How do you know there is a God? Can you prove there is a God? Doesn’t science disprove God? How can there be a God if there is suffering in the world? How do you know your religion is right? What about homosexuality and transgenderism? We have a very smart tradition, but we haven’t communicated it very effectively to our young people.
• Fourth, turn every parish into a missionary society. Move from maintenance to mission. Parish is a place to attend Mass, fulfill my obligation and receive the sacraments, but it also should be a missionary society that goes forth. Pope Francis said to get out of the sacristy and into the streets. Young people aren’t typically going to come to us. We have to go out to them.
• Fifth, creatively use the new media. Precisely at the moment when we are facing this crisis of disaffiliation, we have the means for the first time to reach massively into the world. Young people aren’t going to come readily to our programs and institutions, but using this tool we can reach into their world. Ideally, every parish or cluster of parishes would have someone who is really good at this kind of engagement.
These five paths mesh well with the efforts underway in the Diocese of Davenport in our Vision 20/20 process.