The most interesting part of this week's column is John's interview with some students at the UT Catholic Center (a parish run by he CSPs! :-)). First there is the great devotion to Pope John Paul. None of the issues that a previous generation got hung up on -- birth-control, homosexuality, etc. -- get much traction. [Incidentally, this is exactly what we witnessed earlier this week at our student group meeting: those present shared their memories of the late Pope, all overwhelmingtly positive. What wasn't mentioned? Contraception. Sex. Women. I can see it now, all those grey heads shaking in consternation: "These damn youngsters are so "conservative"!]. And then the biggest gripe is that the Church doesn't get her "information" out as well as she should. The teachings aren't properly explained, the deep history and heritage aren't put forth clearly, the Internet is ignored. Similar to what I hear all the time. A lot of this is the fruit of having grown up with no real religious education at all. Apart from the fact that Jesus loves you, and be nice, and don't judge. And lots of collage and finger painting.
In other words, these 20-somethings share something of the desire of the Vatican II generation for a more "modern" church -- but, unlike Baby Boomers, by "modern" they mean technological sophistication and savvy about engaging the cultural debate, not doctrinal change or structural reform.Hey, we have a catechist Pope now! A professor, no less! :-) Anyway, this doesn't mean being mean and harsh.
"The church has to modernize, not in the sense of changing its mind, but in strategies to communicate its ideas," said Puccini.
Riccardo Gutiérrez, 20, a microbiology major, said that if he were pope for a day, his top priority would be "information."
None of this means these young Catholics are incapable of substantive criticism.Yes, 10 college students is hardly a statistical sample. And yes, those who think otherwise are probably simply not in church. But that's just it. If one is fed the line that the Church is an evil institution that obstructs the Gospel message, well, why stay? Why belong? As John puts it at the beginning of this section:
Puccini, for example, said he had been disappointed that John Paul II did not do more to demand "accountability" for the sexual abuse crisis. He also said the church should do a better job of projecting compassion for homosexuals, even while maintaining its present doctrine.
What became clear is that these young people are deeply "intentional" Catholics, meaning that in this day and age, their faith is not something they picked up in the air, but the result of a personal process of thought and decision. They didn't start out as believers and only later discover that some aspects of church teaching are counter-cultural; they know the broader culture is hostile to some of what the church stands for, and have made a conscious decision to embrace it anyway.That's exactly what Dr. Portier talked about in his talk last week at Madison: with the disappearance of the Catholic sub-culture, the Church is a voluntary community. And those who stay and are engaged are the ones who find meaning in it. This is especially true of the younger generation. This is why he suggested that these "evangelical Catholics," the ones who have a deep sense of the mission of the Church, are the future of the Church.