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Fr Michael Mason speaking at the Eparchial clergy retreat / © catholicukes.org.au

Focus on Youth

A leading Catholic youth researcher, Fr Michael Mason, believes the Ukrainian Catholic Church has a bright future if it puts “experiencing” God at the forefront of its youth ministry.

Speaking at the Eparchial clergy retreat, over three days Fr Mason presented his extensive research on how to evangelise “Generation Y”, saying the Ukrainian church “has the resources to build a strong church for the next generations – for the glory of God!”

Although often typecast as distracted, individualistic and consumeristic, he stressed that young people today are still reaping the spoils of the tremendous social upheaval of the 1960s and 70s.

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Rather than rejecting faith, Fr Mason found the main factor that brought youth to church (or kept them away) was whether their Baby Boomer parents practised their faith enthusiastically.

Because of a massive falling-away in their parents’ generation, many young people were left to be formed by the mass media, popular culture, and the consumer market – none of which are sympathetic to Christianity or share its values – and therefore did not see the value in Christian life.

Paradoxically, Catholic schooling has little effect on whether young people continue to practise their faith into adulthood, according to Fr Mason’s research, due in part to the high proportion of nonbelieving or nonpractising families at Catholic schools.

Despite assumptions to the contrary, young people are open to traditional forms of religion and are not mired in “new age” spirituality or similar belief-systems.

Priests, deacons, two sisters of St Basil the Great, priests’ wives and laypeople attended the retreat, with many remaining for the annual Soborchyk in the two days following.

Fr Mason thoroughly enjoyed participating in the daily liturgies, and remarked many times on the beauty and joy of the priests’ singing.

Of all the times and places where Australian Catholics report feeling close to God, he reported, reverent and solemn church services are in the top 10, along with the birth of a child and experiencing nature.

In his opening address, Bishop Peter Stasiuk said the Eparchy “had a good shot” at a youth renewal if its priests and people strive for personal holiness, with hearts open to the Holy Spirit, and really “live it”.

Many priests agreed, remarking during the conference that young Ukrainian Catholics have a good “feel” for holiness and are attracted to those who model it.

The Ukrainian Catholic church is well-placed to help young people experience God’s grace,

Fr Mason said that despite assumptions to the contrary, young people are open to traditional forms of religion and are not mired in “new age” spirituality or similar belief-systems.

“I cling to the conviction, based on what I consider sound evidence from research, that even among the large proportion of Gen Y who show little or no interest in conventional religion, the still small voice of primordial religious experience is present,” Fr Mason said.

The Ukrainian Catholic church is well-placed to help young people experience God’s grace, Fr Mason said, because of the depth and integrity of its tradition, and beautiful liturgy.

“The Western church has tried every kind of pastoral strategy and technique to retain its youth … and all of them have failed.

“Some are realising that the answer lies right at the centre of our tradition, but much better maintained in the East than in the West.

Parish communities can help by forming and nurturing youth leaders who attract and evangelise their peers, and by giving them appropriate responsibilities.

“The greatest need of our youth is for space and silence in which to contemplate the mystery, to come to Christ, to believe in him, and to have the living water of the Holy Spirit begin to flow in their hearts.”

Gen Y are in need of “pre-evangelisation” – an experience or encounter with God that will help them re-orient their lives, and prepare them to receive further evangelisation from the church.

Fr Mason said that previous approaches to youth ministry, which assumed a shared Christian sensibility and emphasised “side-by-side” accompaniment, may as a result no longer be effective.

Instead priests should lead from “in front”, strongly inviting youth to follow them deeper into God’s mystery and the life of the church.

Parish communities can help by forming and nurturing youth leaders who attract and evangelise their peers, and by giving them appropriate responsibilities.

nobody has the “solution” to the decline in youth church attendance, encouraging the priests of the Eparchy to experiment and innovate within reason.

Fr Mason emphasised that youth ministry is “not a numbers game” and that even two or three young people, when given support and responsibility, could be the nucleus of a new community.

Eventually a youth group hits “critical mass” and becomes self-sustaining, he said.

Bishop Peter strongly emphasised that nobody has the “solution” to the decline in youth church attendance, encouraging the priests of the Eparchy to experiment and innovate within reason.

A steering group led by Fr Brian Kelty, Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation, has been established to investigate the next steps to be taken.

The retreat was also attended by the Very Rev. Michael Solomko, head of the Consistory of the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church in Australia and parish priest of St Nicholas’ Ukrainian Orthodox church Canberra, who joined priests of the Eparchy for prayer, discussion and fraternity.

Catholicukes.org.au

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