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A few weeks ago, Bishop Robert Barron called on YouTube for every Catholic to invite one person to Mass this year in his video 4 Ways to Grow the Church. It is time to stop feeling defensive and hopeless about the Church, he said, and time to take advantage of the new signs of growth.
I couldn’t agree more, and I have been sharing his suggestion at Aleteia, along with positive signs of hope for the Church. Today is one of the most exciting: Growth in youth activity.
First, every year begins with two big showcases of the strength of Catholic youth.
Skip around EWTN’s coverage of the March for Life in 2023 on YouTube at random, and you find that in almost every frame of coverage, most of the people filling the screen are under 30. And, in most, there is some sign of the Catholic faith — signs bearing the name of schools named for saints, people holding rosaries, and other Catholic imagery.
The March followed another January showcase of youth faith: The 17,000 young people at SEEK 23, the yearly conference of Focus. Aleteia shared the stunning sound of hope for the Church when the crowd sang the Salve Regina.
Second, every 2-3 summers we see the Church’s international showcase of young strength at World Youth Days.
One of the genius moves of St. John Paul II was to establish the World Youth Days. At these remarkable events, Catholic young people who may be used to the Church being an old person’s reality get together and realize that millions of young people are enthusiastic for the faith.
The results have been astounding. In 2016, 3 million gathered in Poland. In 2013, 3.7 million gathered in Brazil. Even tiny Panama City in Panama gathered 700,000 in 2019 in January (summer for the southern hemisphere, but that made it more difficult for us in the north to attend.) Pope Francis was delighted to send a message to the 400,000 who are already registered for this summer’s WYD in Lisbon.
Third, huge numbers of children are focusing on their faith.
When I was growing up in the Church of the 1970s and 1980s, I remember my Protestant friends going to vacation Bible studies and summer camps, but I never even heard of a Catholic one.
Today, Catholic camps are common. In our area, we have several to choose from, hosted by dioceses in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Totus Tuus started in Kansas and is now a nationwide program in 50 diocese forming countless kids.
The Holy Heroes publishing company reaches families with their Lenten and Advent Adventures and weekly Mass prep. This past Advent, the company reached 32,600 families, not counting parishes and elementary schools. Their Weekly Mass prep reaches more than 20,000 families a week. Those families have more than three children apiece on average, so you can double or triple those numbers.
Fourth, teens are taking advantage of more opportunities than ever.
The numbers are impressive. LifeTeen reaches young people in 1,600 parishes in Amerca and beyond. The National Catholic Youth Conference, NCYC, reached 20,000 teens in 2019 and 24,000 kids in 2017. Many more teens encounter Christ at regional events like the rural youth conferences my own children attend.
Each summer, 20 Steubenville Conferences reach tens of thousands of teens. Individual high school camps, like Benedictine College’s BCYC, have seen steady growth for years.
Fifth, colleges that connect enthusiastic faith with the Catholic intellectual tradition are growing each year.
Speaking of Benedictine College, the school has seen enrollment increases yearly for more than two decades, and welcomed more than 2,000 undergraduate freshmen this fall. Others reporting record enrollment include the University of Dallas, Ave Maria University, Christendom College, and Thomas Aquinas College.
Newman Centers at state colleges are booming, and so are college apostolates. Focus reports 45,000 alumni of its programs; St. Paul’s Outreach reports 31,000.
Sixth, all of this faith activity is leading to more vocations.
All of this interest in the faith at young ages is not for nothing. In many dioceses, vocations are growing.
I interviewed Landry Weber who left his Kansas State football career for the seminary last year, and we see stories like his all the time at Benedictine College. Friends of ours in North Dakota to North Carolina have all reported being encouraged by one sign of hope: The diocesan posters of seminarians that are posted in parish churches are getting bigger.
Research backs up the impression. Georgetown’s CARA, which specializes in Catholic Church statistics, showed a slow and steady growth of seminarians 10 years ago. Last year, CARA noticed that numbers of religious sisters were 10 times what media reports would have you believe.
The vocations director of the Sisters of the Precious Blood wrote in 2019 that she has seen the numbers growing, and cited CARA research from Georgetown which showed that 2018 had the highest number of men and women making perpetual profession since their analysis began.
So be not afraid.
Confidently invite someone to Mass this year, and help these numbers trend even higher.