The challenge of evangelizing our youth in the new century will require a deeper understanding of their needs today.
Sadly, our youth, as in past generations, must deal with racism, a culture of violence, and sexual exploitation. They are searching for ways to cope. It is our duty as adult men and women of faith to present them with mechanisms to help them cope in such a complex society.
The good news is that religion is deeply rooted in the black American experience, which means that our youth often view the church as a way to deal with stressful situations such as racism, inequalities, poverty, violence, rejection and substance abuse. Religious practices provide youth with a system of understanding and ex-plaining life events that are otherwise unexplainable to immature or underdeveloped minds.
Therefore, if the church offers many benefits to the spiritual and developmental growth of our youth, the question becomes, how do we communicate our values to them? How do we keep them in our parishes and away from the wolves who would lead them astray?
We have abandoned our youth to the care of local community centers and the “mega” churches with their large gyms. How can we compete with the many after-school activities, private clubs and public recreational sports?
Perhaps the reason why they are there is because many of our Catholic parishes have failed to provide the same resources and activities. It is time that we as black Catholics stop allowing others to raise our children and instill in them values that are contrary to the teaching of our faith.
During the late 1950s, evangelization efforts of black Catholics included offering gymnasiums and organized sports teams. Traditional black Cath-olic churches had Scout troops, art programs and other creative activities that were provided by priests and religious. Additionally, lay adults willing to work with our youth were plentiful. Parish programs were well-structured, age-appropriate and gender-specific.
Today, parishes seem to barely pay for the insurance needed to cover such activities. It seems that the church’s effort to protect children is having a direct effect on the recruitment of adult volunteers willing to work with youth. They find the training and screening process too difficult, bureaucratic and intimidating.
We need youth leaders with sound Catholic doctrine, who have the ability to listen and to guide our youth in their development as black Catholics who are proud of their heritage.
If the reason why you never volunteered to be a youth leader is because no one asked, then we are asking you now.
Franciscan Father Paul Williams, vicar for African-American Catholics for the Diocese of Charleston, says, “If the white Catholic community knows how to provide the best for their youth, why can’t we as black Catholics provide for our youth? If the black Baptist and Methodist churches know how to provide for their youth, why can’t we as black Catholics provide for our youth?”
Our youth are our future as black Catholics. Our black youth are hungry for intimacy, community and spirituality. We must make sure that they know that God loves them and accepts them as they are.
In the Catholic Church, youth can find a lively faith, deep roots, comfort, peace, and be challenged by vibrant social teachings. In the Catholic Church, youth are able to identify themselves with something in society. They will be proud to say they are black and Catholic. We must nurture this growth by revisiting our plan of action from the National Black Cath-olic Congress’ principle for youth and young adults.
The action steps will guide us through the coming years and lead to success with our youth, and thus a strengthening of not only our black parishes, but also the entire Catholic Church in the United States.
Kathleen Merritt is director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries for the Diocese of Charleston.