It’s not easy being a parent and it’s not easy getting your children to go to church once they reach a certain age. When they’re little, you can take them along almost anywhere with little plastic bags filled with Cheerios and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish packed into your purse and maybe a few small toys or books to keep them busy for an hour. In the Catholic churches we went to when I was growing up, they had what we called “the crying room,” where you took the babies and toddlers when they were inconsolable. We always felt bad for the parents who had to resort to that special room. Kids and church have always been a little problematic for me.
Last Saturday, the Diocese of Fall River hosted Catholic Youth Day at the Tabernacle. The bishop came and more than 250 young people and youth ministers from the diocese and the Island were there. It looks like they had a great time, and God knows we all need a little bit of that right now.
As my own kids got older, of course they didn’t want to go anywhere with me, much less church on Sunday mornings. I’m pretty sure whatever I said or did was a source of embarrassment for a good 10 years. Nowadays, I’m just teased mercilessly by them in my old age for everything from my clothing choices to the way I pronounce “scallops.” We all have a good laugh and I remind them that they’ll be my age someday, so they don’t get too comfortable in their position.
Whenever there were events for young people in the church, I always advocated for the kids to go. They would be with other kids they knew, and just maybe some of that talk about God would sink in. If nothing else, they would know that there were other kids like them who had an inkling about church, even if they were forced to go by their parents.
I’m still not entirely sure how to keep young people interested in church or in God. He’s not exactly someone they can shake hands with or be introduced to in the literal sense. I remember thinking when my children were small, “Maybe if I just keep bringing them to church it will rub off on them.” I think that probably does work in some cases. In mine, I have a daughter and a son who enjoy going to church and another son who thinks my faith is something like believing in the Tooth Fairy. Two out of three isn’t too bad, I think to myself.
What it’s come down to for us is that they can see how my life has played out, how my faith has worked throughout my life, and maybe that will help them in some way. Lead by example they say.
I remember I would have to interview young people for my job at the Catholic newspaper and they always responded with answers like “It was great,” “I had fun,” or “I came with my friend.” Talking to a strange lady with a notepad probably wasn’t their idea of a good time. They didn’t give much insight into their spiritual life. But, I always thought, they were there at some event or another so maybe they did have thoughts on it, they just weren’t into talking about it.
This year’s Catholic Youth Day was held with a special Mass at the Tabernacle with Bishop Edgar da Cunha celebrating. The young people heard presentations, live music, had time for prayer and worship and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And they had time for games and some free time to explore Oak Bluffs.
Kids from eighth grade through high school were here also to reconnect after what was a pretty unusual year for everyone.
I heard from John Kearns, director of communications for the diocese, and he said it was a rousing success. It’s a pretty big deal to have the bishop come and spend time with them, and John said the bishop talked about the importance of remaining connected with God when the world is whirling around them so fast. If they can keep their faith, it will help them during challenging times.
Well, I thought, that’s pretty much what I always tell my kids. Maybe with 250 kids there, that message might resonate with 150 of them. That’s 150 kids who could share their faith with 150 more kids. Who knows. Young people teach us about hope every day, and I bet that day made the bishop feel even better than those young folks.