Anchorage, Alaska, Sep 23, 2012 (CNA) - Some would consider them countercultural. A group of college-age Alaskans are bucking a larger trend among young people nationwide who are abandoning the faiths in which they were raised.
According to a recent study from Georgetown University, young people in the United States, ages 18 to 24, are leaving religion in greater numbers than ever before. And the numbers of fallen-away youth are highest among those raised Catholic or mainline Protestant.
The study reports that although just 11 percent of today’s youth grew up in non-religious households, more than twice that number — one in four — are now religiously unaffiliated.
Bucking the trend
Yuri Beans, a sophomore accounting major at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, converted to Catholicism about a year ago. Growing up in remote Mountain Village, he had attended Sunday Masses with his Catholic father but was never baptized. After his family moved to Anchorage, however, he started attending Lumen Christi High School where he learned about church teachings and history. This eventually inspired a conversion.
In college, however, Beans has seen firsthand the trend of Catholics moving away from the faith.
“At university, especially here in Anchorage with it being so secular … you have a lot of students with that mindset,” Beans told the Catholic Anchor. “And they’re baiting other students to get in with them. They want them to have that life it seems because they’re not happy on their own. They’ll hook ‘em in.”
Beans said connecting with fellow Catholic peers has helped keep his faith strong while in school.
“We’ve stuck so tightly together that we’re not allowing anybody else to get into that and try to take control of us,” he said. “We’re not letting Satan get control of us.”
Strength in numbers
It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that Oriele Jones, a music education junior at UAA, made the decision to commit more fully to the Catholic faith in which she was raised. Jones credits her transformation to a course in church history at Lumen Christi High School.
“After learning church history, I could not see myself leaving the church,” she said. “In college I stopped hanging out with my regular group of friends, and started hanging out with friends from church more.”
Jones and Beans are both involved in the UAA Cardinal Newman club, part of a network of clubs across the United States that provide Catholic ministry on college campuses.
Jones and Beans say the Newman club connects them to a Catholic group while on campus. But the two don’t stop there: staying engaged spiritually in a variety of ways is essential to keeping the faith in college, they say. Both listed attending daily Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the young adult groups at St. Benedict and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishes among the ways they stay connected with Christ through their college years.
At St. Olaf’s Lutheran College in St. Paul, Minn., psychology junior Spencer Hodgson is keeping and spreading the faith with another Catholic college club — one with an evangelistic focus.
Hodgson, who grew up attending St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage estimates that there are about 600 out of the 3,000 students at his campus who are Catholic. Of those, he said, between 20 and 30 attend weekly meetings with the Catholic club.
The club is called St. Paul’s Outreach, and its motto is “Faith alive on campus.” In addition to attending club meetings, Hodgson said he plans to work this year as a student missionary with the club, traveling to nearby college campuses to seek out fallen-away Catholics and inviting them to Mass and club meetings.
Each of the weekly meetings include a time of worship as well as a talk on a religious topic, Hodgson said.
“It’s more of a charismatic community,” he said, “so the focus is community and growing together in holiness.”
Attending a Lutheran school has, in a way, spurred Hodgson to draw nearer to Christ in the Catholic Church, he said.
“It’s harder because there’s that anti-Catholic mentality from some Lutherans,” he said. “But it’s easier for us because some of the Catholics are feeling it, and they look for Catholic community like I did.”
TIime for prayer
College can present Catholic students with a perfect storm of temptation and schedule overload, Jones observed. With so many classes and activities, it’s easy to fall away from a habit of prayer and spiritual reflection.
“There’s definitely been times of temptation, where the best way to describe it would be a spiritual drought,” she said. “If I’m not dedicating as much time to prayer as I should be or doing any spiritual reading, I would lose focus and become self-centered. And then I’m not thinking about Christ or others as much as I’m thinking about myself and how I feel.”
“When I’m forcing myself to go to daily Mass, it happens less frequently, of course,” she added. “I’m receiving the sacrament. I’m reminded to pray. But when I become overwhelmed [at school], it becomes very emotionally exhausting because that’s when I don’t make time for prayer.”
Reaching out to Catholic peers is a good way to break out of that cycle, Jones observed. Another strategy she has taken up recently is getting in touch with a spiritual director.
“I think a lot of why people leave is because they have a lot of questions but don’t have a reliable source to ask,” she said. “Having a mentor, someone you can trust and confide in to answer your question, is helpful.”
Beans also credits having a spiritual director for keeping the faith in college. He and Oriele both have priests for spiritual directors.
Another practice that Beans said is essential to his spiritual life is going to adoration at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
“They have perpetual adoration, and that really helps out,” he said. “It’s a great way to clear your head and to let God come in and take control when you really need it the most. And just being in the presence of Jesus Christ and the Eucharist, it’s always mind-blowing to be there every week.”
But when it really comes down to it, Hodgson said, adulthood is a time when Catholics must take personal ownership of their faith or else they can lose it.
“That’s what happens to everyone,” he said, “unless you find a community and make sure you’re doing things like daily prayer.”
Posted with permission from Catholic Anchor, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.
Denver, Colo., Sep 23, 2012 (CNA) -
On Sept. 27 the Catholic Church remembers Saint Vincent de Paul, the French, 17th century priest known as the patron of Catholic charities for his apostolic work among the poor and marginalized.
During a September 2010 Angelus address, Pope Benedict XVI noted that St. Vincent “keenly perceived the strong contrast between the richest and the poorest of people,” and was “encouraged by the love of Christ” to “organize permanent forms of service” to provide for those in need.
The exact year of Vincent’s birth is not definitively known, but it has been placed between 1576 and 1581. Born to a poor family in the southwest of France, he showed his intellectual gifts from a young age, studying theology from around age 15. He received ordination as a priest in the year 1600, and worked as a tutor to students in Toulouse.
During a sea voyage in 1605, Vincent was seized by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery. His ordeal of captivity lasted until 1607, during which time the priest converted his owner to the Christian faith and escaped with him from Tunisia. Afterward, he spent time studying in Rome, and – in a striking reversal of fortune – served as an educator and spiritual guide to members of an upper-class French family.
Although Vincent had initially begun his priesthood with the intention of securing a life of leisure for himself, he underwent a change of heart after hearing the confession of a dying peasant. Moved with compassion for the poor, he began undertaking missions and founding institutions to help them both materially and spiritually. The one-time slave also ministered to convicts forced to serve in squalid conditions as rowers aboard galley ships.
Vincent established the Congregation of Priests of the Mission in 1625, as part of an effort to evangelize rural populations and foster vocations to remedy a priest shortage. Not long after this, he worked with the future Saint Louise de Marillac to organize the Daughters of Charity, the first congregation of women religious whose consecrated life involved an extensive apostolate among the poor, the sick, and prisoners.
Under Louise’s direction, the order collected donations which Vincent distributed widely among the needy. These contributions went toward homes for abandoned children, a hospice for the elderly, and an immense complex where 40,000 poor people were given lodging and work. Vincent was involved in various ways with all of these works, as well as with efforts to help refugees and to free those sold into slavery in foreign lands.
Though admired for these accomplishments during his lifetime, the priest maintained great personal humility, using his reputation and connections to help the poor and strengthen the Church. Doctrinally, Vincent was a strong opponent of Jansenism, a theological heresy that denied the universality of God’s love and discouraged reception of the Eucharist. He was also involved in the reform of several religious orders within France.
St. Vincent de Paul died on Sept. 27, 1660, only months after the death of St. Louise de Marillac in March of the same year. Pope Clement XII canonized him in 1737. In 1835, the French scholar Blessed Frederic Ozanam took him as the inspiration and namesake for the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, a lay Catholic organization working for the relief of the poor.
Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Thousands of women across the country are leading grassroots efforts to make their voices heard in opposition to the federal contraception and sterilization mandate.
The Women Speak for Themselves movement is driven by “things that women are deciding to do on their own,” said Meg McDonnell, who has been assisting the group from early in its existence.
McDonnell told CNA on Sept. 20 that the movement has received “hundreds of e-mails” about women’s efforts to defend religious freedom, including prayer campaigns, local rallies, blog posts, discussions with elected representatives, voter registration drives, billboards and letters to the editor.
The movement began in February, when George Mason law professor Helen Alvaré and former Thomas More Law Center counsel Kim Daniels wrote a letter responding to the controversial federal mandate that requires employers to offer free contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs in their health care plans, regardless of their religious and moral objections.
The open letter asked President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Kathleen Sebelius and members of Congress not to claim to speak for all women in promoting the mandate.
It criticized those who try to “shout down anyone who disagrees” with them by invoking “women’s health,” while ignoring the negative physical and social effects of contraception for women.
“No one speaks for all women on these issues,” the letter said. “Those who purport to do so are simply attempting to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues currently at stake.”
Within weeks, the letter was signed by thousands of women of various religious and political backgrounds who oppose the mandate. The letter is currently approaching 34,000 signatures.
What started as a simple letter has become a movement, with the women on the list working to “keep it active,” McDonnell explained. “It’s really them that keep it going.”
As more women signed the letter, she said, they consistently wrote to Alvaré about the issues they were facing and the efforts they were leading in their local communities.
Relief at having an opportunity to speak out and the ability to stand up for their beliefs was a “common theme,” she explained.
McDonnell attributes the growth of the movement over the last seven months largely to the “woman to woman contact” and the “continual discussion” that is being generated, allowing the conversation to reach a wider audience.
Decades after legalized abortion swept through America, she said, “a lot of women have experienced the negative effects” of the sexual revolution. Seeing that these ideas did not lead to happiness, they now want to “set a better path for younger women.”
The women in the movement hold differing views on contraception, she noted.
“But they stand with us on the religious freedom issue,” she said. “And that’s the key point.”
The group’s website, www.womenspeakforthemselves.com, includes talking points for discussions on the mandate and religious freedom, exploring the “war on women” rhetoric, and whether free contraception is really the best means of promoting women’s equality.
These talking points help to “clarify the dialogue,” McDonnell explained.
Contrary to some reports, she said, opponents of the mandate are “not trying to say that contraception should be outlawed.” Rather, they are advocating a return to policies that allow women to purchase birth control if they choose to do so, while permitting religious groups to follow their moral convictions.
The movement has also released an online video highlighting the efforts of women to protect religious liberty and promote “a more thoughtful, more complete vision of women’s freedom.”
In addition, a new book called “Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak For Themselves” (Our Sunday Visit, $16.95) has been published. The book, which is edited by Alvaré, features women speaking “in their own voices” about the issues they face in their careers, as moms and in their faith lives. It also features the stories of how they came to embrace Church teaching in their own lives.
McDonnell believes that women will continue to make use of outlets that allow them to speak their opinion in the public square.
Religious freedom is an important ongoing issue that is “not solely related just to this mandate,” she explained.
“Women are smart,” she said. “They’re moms, they’re wives, they’re working in the professional world. They realize that there are greater things ahead for women.”
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI is calling upon Christians to follow the example of Jesus Christ in becoming “last of all and servants of all.”
“A key point in which God and man are different is pride,” said the Pope during his Angelus address to pilgrims at Castel Gandolfo Sept. 23.
“We, who are little, desire to appear great, to be first; while God, who is truly great, is not afraid to humble himself, and make himself last.”
The Pope drew his reflections from today’s Gospel according to St. Mark in which Jesus announces his impending death and resurrection. His disciples, however, “did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.”
In response to discussions among the twelve apostles as to who was greatest Jesus informs his closest followers that “if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
“It is clear,” observed the Pope, “that between Jesus and the disciples there is a deep interior distance; they are, so to speak, on two different wavelengths.”
This once again reminds us “that God’s logic is always ‘other’ with respect to our own,” he said.
Reminding pilgrims of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, the Pope said that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways.
And so, “following the Lord requires of each person a profound conversion, a change in his or her way of thinking and living, it requires us to open our hearts to be enlightened and to be inwardly transformed.”
The model for this form of living, concluded the Pope, is the Virgin Mary who is “perfectly 'in tune' with God” and can therefore teach Christians “to follow Jesus faithfully on the path of love and humility.”
Pope Benedict then led the pilgrims in praying the midday Marian prayer, the Angelus, before addressing various groups in their native language. He concluded by imparting his apostolic blessing and wishing all present at “una buona domenica,” a “good Sunday.”