Australian Catholics have a countdown. Here is what young believers think

Australia’s most important Catholic meeting since 1937 is underway right now.

It is called the plenary session and important issues that the role of women in the Church and how to heal after the crisis of sexual abuse have been on the table.

Chris Lee never expected to be one of the 280 contestants.

Despite growing up in a practicing household, the 27-year-old says he had little to do with Catholicism when he was a teenager.

“Like most young people, I went through the phase where I was away from the faith,” he says.

That all changed eight years ago after Chris and his friends got involved in a fight at Sydney’s Kings Cross.

“I got to the hospital the next day and the ophthalmologist said, ‘We think one of the guys carried a knife because you were cut through the eye,'” he recalls.

Chris had three metal plates put in the right side of his face. He is permanently blind in his left eye.

The incident left him in recovery for six months, and it was during that time that he was visited by a Catholic sister. She told Chris about a men’s group at her university and encouraged him to attend.

“It was the first time I had been in a group of Catholic men where we were doing this thing called Lectio Divina – we were reflecting on a piece of writing,” says Chris.

It was the “crack in the door” that led Chris toward his faith and into a new career path.

He started working with young people in the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Diocese of Parramatta and talked about issues that hit close to home – safe partying, decision making and men’s health. Now he is in a supporting role for pastors in the diocese of Broken Bay.

As a young Catholic man, Chris knows he is a minority.

Nearly 1.3 million Australians aged 15 to 34 are Catholic, but according to the latest census data, young people are more likely to report having no religion than any other adult age group.

But Chris sees the statistics as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

“A lot of people my age say they may not believe in organized religion, but they see themselves as spiritual and they believe in God,” he points out.

“It means we have room to be able to connect with these people and show them all the things that we know are true and good and beautiful … because they are also looking for it.”

The Catholic Sisterhood

Medical student Natalie Gordon has her own interesting history with the Catholic Church.

As a young woman, she felt called to be a religious sister.

“I was really romantic in my notion of religious life,” the 40-year-old recalls.

“I wanted the whole package – I wanted the habit and the strict prayer regime and, I suppose, the romanticized version from the 1950s.”

Young man wearing hat and woman standing in front of the creek.
Natalie Gordon was attracted to becoming a religious sister, but it did not go according to plan. (

Delivered by: Natalie Gordon

)

Natalie moved to the United States and joined an order that adhered to these traditions, but the monastery’s culture and political inclinations were ultimately contrary to her own beliefs.

“Conservative Americans really argue against abortion if they’re Catholic, but they do not want any conversation about the death penalty … I think that was one thing that really got me going,” she says.

Natalie left the American order after seven months, and when she first settled in Australia, she took a master’s degree in theology.

But despite her knowledge and experience, Natalie says it has still been difficult to find her place in the Church as a woman.

While this week’s council plenary in Australia is the first to receive women, only about a quarter of women are delegated.

“[The Church] says it wants women to stand at the helm. It says it wants women to have a pride in the place, ”says Natalie.

“[But] even on this advice, from my very own diocese, e.g. Canberra and Goulburn, they have five delegates, one of whom is a woman. “

Natalie points out that older women are some of the most productive donors to church life, yet their perspectives are often underrepresented.

“I kind of feel like it’s a little hopeless for women.”

‘Legitimacy crisis’

Proportional representation is not the only problem on the table.

Seminarist Bill Lowry says there are many topics that are important to believing youth.

“I would like to see the Council address … things like ecological transformation or climate skills … and engage with different cultural groups in the church,” he says.

The 27-year-old is studying for a Catholic priesthood in Ballarat Diocese.

Young seminarian wearing white cloak and mask standing on the red carpet in a church.
Bill Lowry is well on his way to becoming a Catholic priest.(

Delivered: Bill Lowry

)

It is a seven-year commitment that combines the study of theology — to a master’s level — with community stays in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and parishes.

Bill believes the declining religiosity among young Australians is a “major tragedy”.

But he understands why some people leave – or choose not to enter the Church.

“I think there is a real crisis of legitimacy in organized religion,” Bill says.

“In particular, we have seen the Royal Commission and the issue of child sexual abuse … I think people are really questioning whether these institutions can speak authoritatively on these issues when they can not get their house in order.

“I think young people really do not like hypocrisy.”

Challenge accepted

Melbourne-based parish administrator, Father Justel Callos, realized that the Catholic community was aging in his first few months of the priesthood.

“I remember seeing so much — with all due respect — lots of white hair, which was not something I was used to seeing,” the 31-year-old says.

“And [it wasn’t] as full as the large attendance I grew up with. “

Father Justel crouches down, surrounded by children.
Father Justel has been a priest for six years and says he “loves it”.(

ABC News: Jane Cowan

)

Father Justel was born in the Philippines, a country where more than 80 percent of the population identifies as Catholics – compared to 22.6 percent in Australia.

He has lived in Australia since 2008, and at the time of his ordination in 2015, Father Justel was the youngest priest in Australia.

He finds the declining proportions in the Catholic Church confusing.

“The Catholic schools seem to be full, there seems to be a lack of baptism in my experience, and yet we somehow do not get our youth to go to church or attend a Sunday for our Masses. ,” he says.

“That’s something that really amazed me.”

While Father Justel was initially discouraged by this fact, he is now motivated to reverse the trend.

“How do we make our message much more relevant in today’s world?”

He believes the plenary session could be a springboard.

Like Natalie and Bill, Father Justel hopes the role of women will be reassessed.

He also believes that it is important for the Church to consider how it treats and interacts with divorces and with people of the same sex, especially those who are Catholic.

Conversations about Catholicism and the LGBTQIA + community remain controversial and divide left- and right-wing factions in the Church.

Earlier this month, a plenary session of the German Catholic Church ended abruptly after a majority of bishops, lay people and church representatives voted for a text approving same-sex blessings.

Despite the different attitudes among Australian Catholics, Father Justel believes that the church can no longer hide from this “very real” problem.

“We don’t want to isolate them, we want to make a church that is accommodating,” he says.

“If we can present the teachings of the Church in a more positive way in terms of dealing with people, I think it’s going to be great.”

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