Fast forward 10 years . . .
A few months ago, the Archdiocese of Miami announced that it would be hosting a series of “Listening Sessions” with the Archbishop at various parishes as part of its Second General Synod. Among the topics for discussion was the following: “Thinking of your concerns, what is the Catholic Church in South Florida (the Archdiocese of Miami) not doing well; what should we be doing differently?” All members of the Church were invited to attend and actively participate in the Sessions at a time and location that was convenient to them. Never one to be dissuaded, I blew the dust off the “Letter to Father Smith” (that I “published” here yesterday) and headed out the door of my office, fully intending to share my thoughts with the Archbishop and all those in attendance. Only moments into the Session, however, my plans were dashed when the moderator announced that, in the interest of moving things along and making sure everyone had an opportunity to speak, those who chose to speak at one of the three microphones set up in the main aisles of the Sanctuary would only be given 2 minutes to convey their thoughts. I balled up the letter and impatiently waited my turn.
After listening attentively to a hodgepodge of comments from those in attendance, I stepped to the microphone, thanked the Archbishop for the opportunity to share my thoughts and, without wasting another second of my precious 2 minutes, respectfully suggested that the Church had a problem and that he need not look beyond the folks seated in the pews before him to appreciate the nature and magnitude it. Turning to the those in attendance, I asked rhetorically: “Where are our young people?” The room became silent. “There must be 400 people here tonight,” I estimated (actually, it turned out that there were 450!), “but I don’t think even one of them is under the age of 20.” “Where are our young people?” I asked again, channeling Jesse Jackson. “I can tell you where at least some of them are,” I continued. “Some are hunched over dimly lit computer screens and smart phone keyboards in the isolation of their rooms, chatting and texting with people they barely even know. Others, are riddled with and paralyzed by anxiety. Some are being victimized by bullying. Still others are depressed and lonely. Some are hanging out with “friends,” drinking and taking drugs to try and numb their pain. Others have eating disorders or are cutting themselves. Many feel hopeless. Some are even be considering ending their lives.”
“To these young people, a loving and merciful God seems a million miles away. Their perception is that He, like everyone else, could care less about them or, worse yet, that He has abandoned them completely. They’ve heard the same readings and tired homilies at Masses their entire lives. Nothing’s new. They look around on Sundays and see pews filled with dour faces. They wonder, as I often do, why, if the Gospel message is one of “Good News,” everyone one hearing it bears the visage of someone whose best friend (or dog) just died? Respectfully, Archbishop, we and, more importantly, the priests in the Archdiocese of Miami can’t allow this to go on much longer. ‘Business as usual’ isn’t getting the job done. Too many of our young people are feeling disconnected and disenfranchised from the Church. Something has to be done to reverse this trend. Creative solutions have to be found to more effectively communicate the ‘Good News’ that we and the Gospel talk so much about. If not, we run the risk of losing a significant number of young believers, who I believe are critical to creating a more vibrant and compassionate Church in the future. I appreciate your time – and I apologize for exceeding my two minutes.”
And, with that, I was out the door to a rather rousing round of applause and more than a few handshakes – “proof” I suppose that I may not be alone in my thinking after all. The next day, I followed up my remarks by sending the Archbishop my “Dear Father Smith” letter, as I promised him I would. Two weeks later, I received the following response: “Thank you for your comments – both during the listening session and for what you sent in by fax and mail. God bless.” No more letters, speeches (or blog posts) on the subject. I did the best I could.