We did not need to witness the scenes of 3 million pilgrims flooding Copacabana beach in Brazil to participate in the final Mass of World Youth Day July 28 to tell us that our young people are the future of the Church.
But is sure was a beautiful reminder!
Pope Francis has galvanized and re-energized young people around the globe, seemingly making Catholicism “cool” and relevant again. He has made an intentional effort to be a “Pope of the People,” putting himself close to Catholics and all who look to him as a spiritual leader. This was no more evident than on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
Pope Francis challenged all of those in attendance – especially young people – to share the Gospel with all they meet in loving service, evangelizing with love and a faith that is palpable and visible to those who are seeking to know Jesus and his gift of salvation.
When in the past we relied on our institutions – dioceses, parishes, bishops and priests – to take on the lion’s share of the work of evangelization, it is our young people who will determine the success or failure of our future evangelization efforts. It’s a young person’s world – a viral world – where information is quickly and effectively spread via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.
The sad truth is that the church bulletin is no longer relevant as an evangelization or educational tool. Parish Web sites, although much more robust as a whole than even 10 years ago, are marginally more effective than the proverbial Sunday bulletin.
The Church has lagged terribly behind in activating local parishes and communities to be effective centers of evangelization. This is because it has hung on too long to outdated modes of information sharing, educating its faithful and even collecting the financial gifts needed to keep our local churches growing. There are many reasons for the glacial speed at which the Church has evangelized, communicated and educated when it comes to our faith, but it’s time to put those aside and take the necessary steps to move into the 21st century. It’s all about marketing the Catholic brand, knowing our messages and talking points to effectively bring Jesus Christ to those who are desperately seeking him.
At the core of this effort will always be our young people. Every generation looks to those who have the most invested in the future to lead the way. All the more reason World Youth Day and all other opportunities we have to educate, empower and encourage our youth to be lovers of the Gospel and evangelists of our faith are so critical, especially in a world that increasingly will reject them, misunderstand them or try to change their beliefs and alter their values under the veil of “tolerance.”
As I read the stories coming out of Brazil, I was energized and hopeful. Let’s pray for our young Catholics. They need our prayers and support now more than ever.