“We need young people to help us fly”

Youth Bishop Stefan Oster sees the future of the Catholic Church in young people. On our site interview he calls on the church to help young people deepen their personal faith.

Interviewer: "Generation What?" was the title of a youth study published recently. One finding: across Europe, 85 percent of participants said they could be happy without faith in God, and 86 percent said they had little or no faith in religious institutions. How devastating do you find such a result??

Bishop Stefan Oster (Diocese of Passau, Chairman of the Youth Commission of the German Church) Episcopal Conference): It is a sign of the times that we live in a plural, liberal and open society, where faith must prove to be something that is convincing, that is attractive and so must find the people we can appeal to. That this is far from always successful is not a new insight. However, the numbers are frightening.

Interviewer: What is the reason for this? What has been done wrong in the past years?

Easter: There is no monocausal explanation. On the one hand, it is – as I just said – the plural society with a variety of offers of meaning. On the other hand, we as a church have noticed that there are several fields among young people. On the one hand, this is the field of "church and sexuality" – how does the church look at sexuality from a doctrinal or traditional point of view? Young people often find this view strange. However, I think that a larger percentage of young people are convinced that a scientific view of the world and the faith of the Church are not compatible.

There, too, we as a church must find starting points for explaining anew that faith and science are not opposites. A third aspect among young people is that – in their view – the church and expressions of violence are "somehow" connected. You see churches as causes of wars. This frightens many young people – especially when, in the aftermath of 11. September wars that seem to be motivated by religious things.

Interviewer: You were a Salesian of Don Bosco and you worked a lot with young people. What experiences have you had in this regard?? What have you taken away from this work?
Easter: The most important thing is the personal dimension of contact with young people. People who are interested in young people and at the same time passionate about their faith are ideal. We hardly reach people today through posters or brochures. I also don't think we reach many people on the Internet for such topics. The Internet can at most be supportive. It's always about personal contact and personal persuasion. Pope Benedict once said, "Christianity grows by attraction, not propaganda". I fully agree with this statement.
Interviewer: You once said that young people have a prophetic power. What does that mean? And what does that mean for the Catholic Church, if it is losing young people?
Easter: The prophetic power refers to the fact that young people still have their lives ahead of them and can show us what their desires and aspirations are and what kind of world they dream about. This is something that can appeal to us. If we lose the youth, then in a sense we lose our wings. Pope Francis once said, "The church has its roots in the elderly and its wings in the young". I find this picture very beautiful. We need young people to help us fly.
Interviewer: Young people today are not always completely satisfied with what they have and with who they are. Do you think that young people have enough space in parishes? And is your youth work being sufficiently appreciated at all?
Easter: The numerous clubs and associations in the church are spaces where young people find an ecclesial home. But in many parishes throughout Germany, there is the hardship that pastoral staff are not always available to many young people. Also, the welcoming culture for young people in parishes is not always strong. There is clearly room for improvement there.
Interviewer: The theme of the next Synod of Bishops in 2018 should be young people. What needs to be discussed in the process? And how can one inspire the young people again for the messages of the Gospel??
Bishop Oster: The first question that concerns me with regard to the synod is: Are we able at all to keep this topic alive within the church and to sensitize people to it?? A second aspect of the content is that the synod has put together the topic "youth-vocation-faith". The question is how we can help young people find their way in life, but not disconnected from the way God proposes to them. My question is: Are we as a church sufficiently sensitized and qualified to help young people in their path and decision-making processes?? Can we accompany them in a quality way and recognize spiritual processes that lead to decisions? At this point, we have a great need to expand on this.
Interviewer: How can the Federation of German Catholic Youth contribute to this??
Bishop Oster: The BDKJ is an umbrella organization that brings together the very strong and well-established youth organizations in Germany, repeatedly develops central themes and aims to have an impact on the church and society – including the political world. This is a task that the youth associations have and, from my point of view, solve well. I think the ie of how we can find forms to deepen our faith is very important. This is a challenge for us. Sometimes we tend to take faith for granted, while subcutaneously it is actually already breaking away from us. The reason is that the secularization prere is so strong. We must see how we can help young people to deepen their faith in terms of content and experience. Then they can become witnesses in the world. To this end, I would like to challenge all youth associations.

The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.

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