US bishops urged to bring people back to the Church

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles did not just bemoan the fact many young people are leaving the Catholic Church.

He told the US Bishops church leaders need to make it a priority to bring them back.

The bishop, chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, who is known for his website, “Word on Fire,” and for hosting the documentary series “Catholicism,” offered a five-step plan of sorts to bring the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” back to the fold.

He said for starters, the church should lead with its social justice work, getting young people involved with caring for those in need, working in soup kitchens, prison ministries, helping the homeless.

Leaders can reinforce this by reiterating messages on social justice from Popes Leo XIII to Francis.

From there, the church should promote its own writers and artists to show people the beauty of the Catholic faith, he said.

Another key step – and he said he’s been “banging this drum for a long time” – is to stop dumbing down the faith.

The bishop, who first brought up this issue of church exodus with the bishops at the spring meeting, said young Catholics, or those of any age, should be able to articulate why they believe what they do.

For starters, “we have to beef up the intellectual content of our religion classes in Catholic schools, our religious education programs, RCIA, confirmation preparation, etc., ” he said.

From his own experience, he said he has been asked very basic questions, particularly on the “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) feature on Reddit, an internet news aggregator, about faith, including:

  • “Who is God and can you prove he exists?”
  • “Can you explain evil and how do you know that your religion is right?”

He said it “breaks your heart to realize we haven’t communicated our tradition effectively,” but that doesn’t mean throwing in the towel. Instead, the work begins locally: in one’s parish.

On the parish level, Catholics need to start recognizing that their parishes are not just places where they experience the sacraments, but they should be seen as missionary grounds.

This especially holds true with reaching out to young people because as he put it: “Young people aren’t going to come to us; we have to go out to them.”

This idea of going out to people is very much in line with Pope Francis’ message of accompaniment, he added.

The bishop’s last point was about using social media to turn this trend around stressing: “We should invest a lot of time and money to get really good people to work our social media, suggesting that parishes, or even groups of parishes, hire someone to do effective social ministry outreach. Continue reading

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