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Listening to Young Adult Catholics

by Robin Ryan, C.P.

Catholics on Call Fr Robin Ryan, C.P., Ph.D. at 2009 Catholics on Call

Core beliefs

Most young adult Catholics, even those who participate in the life of the church infrequently, like being Catholic and readily identify themselves as such. There seems to be a Catholic sensibility that endures with most young adults even when their practice of faith is sporadic. There are core Catholic beliefs that most young adults readily espouse, including belief in the resurrection and divinity of Jesus, affirmation of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, devotion to Mary as the Mother of God, and the obligation to show active concern for the poor. Many young adults struggle with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, the role of women in the Church, and ecclesial requirements for marriage.

Inadequate education

Many young adults express a desire for a deeper knowledge of the Catholic tradition. In a recent study of active young adult Catholics, the late Dean Hoge and Marti Jewell concluded, “Whether self-identified as traditional or liberal, young adults want to know more about their faith.” Young adult Catholics often say that the religious education which they received was inadequate. They claim that it was long on process and short on content. These sentiments are confirmed by researchers who investigate the knowledge of the faith that young adult Catholics actually have. In many cases, it reflects a minimal familiarity with the Catholic tradition. They genuinely appreciate programs like “Catholics on Call” and “Theology on Tap,” where they can learn more about their faith in a welcoming environment.

Young adults tend to be disheartened by the polarization they perceive among middle-aged and older Catholics. Categorizations of Catholic positions as “pre-Vatican II / post-Vatican II” or “conservative / liberal” do not have much relevance to them. In his book “Seeds of Hope: Young Adults and the Catholic Church in the United States,” Tim Muldoon observes that young adults easily become disillusioned by protracted battles among Catholics of differing perspectives. They are more interested in building a church community founded in love seeking justice.

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