Tradition is an important reservoir for the transmission of both the Teaching and the ordinary religious life of the faithful in the Catholic Church. However, the diminishing active youth presence in the church poses a big threat to this important aspect of the Church.
The handing on of tradition demands two parties; the giving and the receiving one. The church must be proud of the presence of the committed members, but quite advanced in age, who are there ready to pass on the faith. On the contrary, there is sharp break in the generations so that you get the impression the members of some Church communities are deliberately selected from among the old.
This is a well-known phenomenon in the western Church but by no means is it an exclusively western problem. The churches I attend in Jerusalem betray this same problem. Don’t I seem to forget Catholics are minority here, and hence that only to be expected?
I’m conscious Christians here in Jerusalem are a minority, split between Western and Eastern churches, with Eastern churches further fragmented into pockets of denominations and rites. I don’t consider that a problem as such; at least not here. But such a diminished presence of the youth, especially at mass I find it severely unfortunate.
At Notre Dame de Jerusalem, you find an impressive presence of young people but then quickly you realise the point. You are in Jerusalem but once inside the church you feel you are somewhere in the Philippines; over Ninety-five percent of those at mass are Philipino immigrant workers, then pilgrims and some religious –that’s all. That does not give a local flavour.
St Xavier’s is a Latin, Roman Catholic Parish. Here, I attend the mass in Arabic for the local community. At a glimpse, I straightaway feel the gap –where are the youth?
I also go to Greek Catholic Church, Melkites, which is one of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome but with its own Byzantine rites.
Here I like sitting at the back, and at times distract myself a bit to count the people. We hardly exceed 50. Occasionally, the number suddenly swells to over sixty but drops before the mass ends.
Pilgrims, or tourists, hard to distinguish, come in. They are fascinated by icons all round the walls and ceiling of the church; amazed at the priest who presides at mass, not only facing them the back but also from a separate room, sanctuary, certainly not the type of the Catholic Mass they know today. Once their curiosity is satisfied and having taken the pictures they want, discreetly they leave at whatever stage of the mass –their pilgrimage, perhaps tourism, continues elsewhere.
The community here is very small, and the absence of the youth is even worse. This is indeed a future threatening affair.
This situation of the church is quite a different case with Islam.
Whenever I look out through my bedroom window, that opens in the street leading to the Mosque of Omar, one of the most sacred Shrines in Islam, about 300metres away; I see mothers pushing prams, young girls well done in veils, and small boys trailing behind their fathers precipitating to the mosque, especially on Fridays. I marvel at this enthusiasm of passing on religious tradition; imbuing children with it at tender age. In this way, the fire of Islam keeps ablaze and the future assured.
With this concern in mind; one thought always comes, perhaps, we could profit from our encounter with Muslims; they can teach us.
We Catholics strongly believe in tradition. Yet when I see the generation gap immediately I know something is seriously wrong. Tradition is at risk. Don’t we believe in it anymore?
Tradition is not just at the magisterial level, apostolic succession and handing on of the apostolic teaching but very much also the holy life of the ordinary faithful. That has to be transmitted too.
Secondly, Islam is a religion not so much left to the professional Pray-ers or few pious individuals. Men and women, old and young are all active practise the religion wherever they are, and not necessarily at the mosque. This has fascinated me.
When I drove through the desert in the north of Mali, all of a sudden I could see a herd of cattle apparently all by itself. I nearly began to marvel at the freedom in the desert given even to domesticated animals to roam without a shepherd. But then, I could see in some bush, a small boy on his knees, bend forwards with the forehead touching the ground and then backwards; then, standing up, he raises open hands high with a gaze in the clear, blue sky –the boy was at prayer. Yet, that was happening far away from parents. On his own, he committed himself to the discipline of prayer five times a day.
Without ignoring the well bred of our catholic youth, often when we see a child like that one suggestion is obvious: why don’t you become a sister, brother or priest? That is, to become a professional pray-er. It betrays our mentality.
This youth issue is a tumour spreading wide and far. The only difference being that in those places where there are still crowds at mass the problem is subtle; you are deceived into not appreciating it easily.
Perhaps, we can benefit from our encounter with Muslims; learn from them how they manage to instill and maintain this sense of prayer, sense of family belief. What is their strategy? But first, we need to acknowledge their success.
Perhaps, this is just another important element we hardly hear about or Christians are shy about in the Inter-religious dialogue with Muslims. I feel the first step would be to congratulate them; it’s only being open to their success; they are flourishing.
Indeed, it’s high time we faced the truth that we seriously need to address the place of the youth in the Church if we are to pass on and preserve the treasure of our religious heritage.
By Evans K. Chama (c) 2007
Missionary of Africa, studying theology in Jerusalem
A word from the editor:
Dear Templar Globe Readers:
We welcome today a new writer to the Globe. Evans K. Chama is a great addition to our Blog, with his interesting writing and views on subjects that are of great interest to the contemporary Templar. Evans lives in Jerusalem, just overlooking the Temple Mount. That is why we chose to title the series of texts “My Bedroom Window Over Jerusalem”. In them we will have an insight into one of the most interesting cities in the world, its culture, its mix of religions and traditions, the general daily events that make one reflect upon life and the relationship with other faiths, history, politics, the lot. We invite you to enjoy this Window view” as much we do.
Luis de Matos
Chancellor of the OSMTHU