By Eric Martin
The role of young people and their place in the development of the future Catholic Church was the focus of a talk last week by Daniel Ang, the Director of Parish 2020, a process of parish renewal and revitalisation in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Mr Ang addressed a Perth audience at Newman Siena Centre on 4 July, in a speaker event organised by the Centre for Faith Enrichment.
“Our culture is changing, our Church is changing and the role of young people in our Church is perhaps a prophetic sign of how we can live the mission of Jesus in possibly new ways that have not been imagined before,” Mr Ang said.
“I think that often parishes especially want young people for their life and their vitality and the hope that young people bring to our parish communities.
“And yet, there’s a drop off in Years 11 and 12 in high school, a disinterest from Year 10 onwards – we sense also that we’re losing a lot of people after school during university and when other things come into play.
“We lose a lot of people between 25 and 35, so we don’t see many people in their late 20s and early 30s – they quietly leave and we don’t see them again.”
Previously serving as Director of the Office for Evangelisation in the Diocese of Broken Bay, encompassing the youth ministry, adult education, CCD, and life, marriage and family apostolates of the Diocese – Mr Ang also holds a Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Sydney, and a Master of Divinity from the Sydney College of Divinity, undertaken at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
As such, he is an acknowledged expert in the area of Youth Ministry, which served as an important source of information and encouragement to Perth’s parish youth leaders.
“If youth ministry is there to prepare young people for adult discipleship, how well are we preparing young people for that broader life?” Mr Ang asked the Perth audience.
“Youth ministry is not simply to hold people in the Church when they’re young but it’s there to actually animate and inspire and equip young people to leave youth ministry and become adult disciples.
Mr Ang explained that his research shows that young people aren’t necessarily attracted to parishes and communities that don’t show any life in themselves: making youth ministry not just for young people, but one that actually engages the whole Church and asks bigger questions around “what kind of Catholic culture do we foster to enable young people to be missionaries?”.
His predominant question for the audience was to contemplate how to ensure that youth ministry does not simply serve the current needs of young people but actually engages young people to become adult disciples?
Mr Ang explained that the call of young people to holiness and to mission is not just about young people ministering to young people, it is also about the kind of Catholic culture that enables everyone to receive the call to holiness, including young people.
“What is the fundamental call of the Church? What is Jesus’s mission? The time of fulfillment has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe in the Gospel. The kingdom of God is the abundance of God’s love; it is the excessiveness of God’s love.
“All of those parables are saying that Jesus loves beyond justice that God loves beyond justice; there is more left over than people can consume.
“We live in a post-Christian culture: people still want equality, they want justice, they want mercy – but they want the Kingdom without the King. We want progress without presence, we want equality and justice and mercy, but we want it without the authority of Jesus Christ.
“In terms of evangelisation, young people still want justice, they still want mercy, but perhaps they want it without the King and they miss the fact that it’s the encounter with Christ that leads to true justice, true mercy and true equality.
“If discipleship can’t be assumed, then we actually have something to work with – the kingdom gets built when people encounter Jesus, they surrender and they make the decision to follow him.”
One of the key questions Mr Ang prompted WA’s youth leaders to ask was: are our youth groups set up to support people, given that outflow of people from the Church, are our youth groups set up to sustain people so that they become adult disciples?
“Can you see the relationship there between the kingdom of God and discipleship?
“We want to transform the world and make God’s reign more and more a reality in our world. Where is the fruit of our mission currently as a Catholic Church? That’s really the big question for today.
“We are a Church with a sacramental life and hundreds of people receive the sacraments every weekend, but we’re not seeing any fruit so what’s going on there?” Mr Ang asked.
“There is no evidence that simply having a cultural of faith will secure the personal decision that you have to make – catechesis is not evangelisation; they are not the same thing.
“Unfortunately, most of us are not spiritual geniuses. If nobody around us ever talks about a given idea, we are no more likely to think of it spontaneously than we are to spontaneously invent a new primary colour. To the extent that we don’t talk explicitly to one another about discipleship, we make it very, very difficult for most Catholics to think about disciple-hood.
“But for others, it’s what they do instead of grow [spiritually].
“For certain, the sacraments give us grace to put us in right relationship with God and his life in our soul, nourishing and strengthening us for our discipleship walk – but they’re not meant to replace it!
“Our witness demonstrates what a new life in Christ looks like – in the history of the life of the Church we didn’t have any good material – we had people. Right now, due to a lack of disciples, we may need the materials as a kind of crutch but we need to be careful about allowing them to replace the relationships.”
Daniel Ang is also a member of the Executive Committee for Plenary Council 2020, the Australian Catholic Council for Pastoral Research, and Australian Catholic Council for Lay Pastoral Ministry.
Between 2013 to 2017, he served as member and Chair of the National Pastoral Planners Network, a professional planning body that promotes and advocates a culture of planning within the Catholic Church in Oceania.
Daniel is published in a number of peer-reviewed journals in the areas of ecclesiology, spirituality, and contemporary issues of pastoral concern in the life of the Catholic community (see http://timeoftheChurch.com/articles).