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3/10/2012 - Malta – PE: God in the life of the young

Fr Joe Cini, a Maltese Salesian helps us to understand the situation of young people on the Mediterranean islands with regard to religion: part research and part experience.

First Situation: Religious Attitudes Among University Students

In April 1968, a survey of Maltese university students' religious attitudes and behaviour was carried out  by the Pastoral Research Services and the Association of Theology students. Among other questions, they asked whether students would like to discuss sex with priests. Forty-four per cent said yes.

In April 2008, the collection of data was concluded for a survey entitled Religious Beliefs and Attitudes of Maltese University Students Revisited - 2009 organised by the University Chaplaincy. The organisers did not feel the need to ask students whether they wanted to talk to priests about sex. The students were asked whether they actually had sexual intercourse during the past year. Forty-four per cent said yes.

How customs have changed in 30 years!
The study clearly shows that University students consciously choose what they want to believe from what is officially presented by the Church. Although 91 per cent of the respondents described themselves as Catholics, only a minority consider divorce (43 per cent), premarital sex (24 per cent) and artificial contraception (14.7 per cent) to be morally wrong.

It is interesting that while the majority of the respondents approve of premarital cohabitation (73.5 per cent) and the legalisation of divorce (56.7 per cent), most do not want to choose either as their lifestyle. One sixth would consider opting for divorce and only five per cent would cohabit. This is positive.

The topics touched on do not cover the whole gamut of Catholic morality. There were no questions about attitudes to the environment, social justice and refugees, for example. If such questions were asked, perhaps the survey would have found that the departure from Catholic teaching on sexual morality was balanced by a stronger social conscience.
The University students' answers on sexual morality would not have been so worrying were it not for four factors, two of which result from the study itself. The current study is a repeat of one done in 2005. The results show that figures are sliding downwards, and that what was felt to be wrong then is not similarly felt now. The trend is clear.

The second, and more worrying factor, is the slide in the level of belief in some of the basic dogmas of Catholicism. Today, fewer students believe in the Trinity, in Jesus as the Son of God, in the Incarnation, in the Holy Spirit, in heaven and hell, in Mary as the Mother of God and in the Church, to mention a few points. Belief in the Trinity fell 18 per cent, in the Incarnation by 24 per cent and in the sacraments by almost 23 per cent.

But one can find a silver lining even in this section. A total of 93.5 per cent of respondents believe in God - a decline of "just" 4.5 per cent over the 2005 figure. There is also a sharp increase in the number of those who say their religious practice is a matter of free choice.

The third factor is that if the same survey were to be conducted among other young people one suspects it would register the same trends. On the morality issues, one also suspects that University students' views would be similar to those of the population at large. The Church needs to find out whether this is true or not.
The fourth and most worrying factor is the follow-up. There will be some 'noise' within the Church about this study but soon everyone will live happily ever after. This is what happened after the 2005 study was published, as well as after the partial results of the Mass census were issued.

The Church needs to strive harder to understand what is happening and adopt a strategy to address it.

Second Situation: Young Apostles for the Young

Today’s youth need an experienced understanding of faith and spirituality. People need to feel genuinely welcomed by a community and find an atmosphere where they are free to grow in all aspects of their unique individuality as persons.

This is what Andrew Consiglio, who, together with a group of other young people founded Youth Fellowship back in 1987, believes is the key to youth outreach today. Having just celebrated its 25th anniversary, Youth Fellowship has, throughout the years, sought to share the unchanging message of the gospel while taking on the challenge of adapting to the trends in contemporary youth culture.
This was reflected in the latest course it organised. Entitled: Seven, Making Sense Of It All, spread over seven weeks, the course offered participants, many of them University students, the possibility to hear and discuss the answers to seven common questions on topics such as  the existence of God, understanding the Bible, effective prayer and the relevance of the Church.

The course started with a party and ended with a weekend retreat. Understanding the relationship between faith and reason and learning how to develop a personal friendship with Jesus is best lived within the context of “fellowship”, a vital element that the group has tried to foster since its inception.

“Thank God I have friends at Youth Fellowship who support me in my daily life and in my prayer, so I’m not alone,” said a 20-year-old University student.
Besides the larger gatherings that have been taking place on Saturdays from the very beginning, the young can join a “cenacolo” a small group where they study the Bible and pray together and foster strong bonds of friendship.

One of the aims of Youth Fellowship has been to enable young adults to become leaders and effective Christian witnesses in today’s society. A number of priests, nuns, company directors, professionals and even people in politics have spoken about the positive role their formation at Youth Fellowship played in the way they chose and live their respective vocations. Many others continue to serve within the organisation itself.

A young member describes his conversion experience at the Come and See weekend retreat five years ago as “day to night”. He is now one of the leaders in the service team, a vibrant group of about 40 other young adults who meet regularly to pray and plan the various events.

On account of its numerous evangelistic, pastoral and social events, the organisation has a staff of five members who coordinate all the activities from their office.

On of them leads the school outreach programme called Acts, “Announcing Christ to Schools”, now in its 10th year. A group of young volunteers use their gap year or take leave from work for a few months to join a team that visits classrooms to share the deeper meaning of life. On various occasions, Youth Fellowship has extended its mission beyond Malta to countries such as the UK, Italy, Poland and Gibraltar. For the past 12 years, the Living Waters Team has been involved in an ongoing project in Ethiopia where, besides raising funds to build a housing estate in Bahar Dar, it has been involved in teaching the people English and catechism.

Music has always played a central role in Youth Fellowship’s meetings where praise and worship songs are key to the experience of prayer. Of its three bands, Salt is perhaps the best known outside the group after winning the Best Newcomer category at the Bay Music Awards in 2009 and the Best Band award in 2010. The Salt keyboardist and band leader says that “the difference about the music we play is the fact that it isn’t about ourselves but about God and, therefore, when I’m playing I’m also praying”.
Throughout the year Masses are celebrated regularly not only in their main meeting hall, but also at a convent chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, which the group uses as a pastoral centre for young people. Various retreats, small groups and fellowship activities are held there throughout the year.

Published 03/10/2012

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