Parish Renewal expert addresses youth and leadership in Perth
Daniel Ang during his address at Newman Siena Centre on 4 July. Photo: Josh Low.
By Eric Martin
The role of young people and their place in the development of the future Catholic Church was the focus of a talk last week by Daniel Ang, Director of Parish 2020, a process of parish renewal and revitalisation in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Mr Ang delivered his talk to an audience made up of those involved in youth ministry across Western Australia, at the Newman Siena Centre on 4 July, in a speaker event organised by the Centre for Faith Enrichment.
Titled “Responding to the Call to Holiness: Youth and Leadership in Focus,” Mr Ang explained that with the changing culture within and outside the Church, the role of young people in our Church is a matter to be taken seriously.
“I think that often parishes especially want young people for their life and their vitality and the hope that young people bring to our parish communities.
“And yet, there’s a drop off in Years 11 and 12 in high school, a disinterest from Year 10 onwards – we sense also that we’re losing a lot of people after school during university and when other things come into play.
“We lose a lot of people between 25 and 35, so we don’t see many people in their late 20s and early 30s – they quietly leave and we don’t see them again.”
Previously serving as Director of the Office for Evangelisation in the Diocese of Broken Bay, encompassing the youth ministry, adult education, CCD, and life, marriage and family apostolates of the Diocese, Mr Ang also holds a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Sydney, along with a Masters of Divinity from the Sydney College of Divinity, undertaken at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
As such, he is an acknowledged expert in the area of Youth Ministry, which served as an important source of information and encouragement to Perth’s parish youth leaders.
“If youth ministry is there to prepare young people for adult discipleship, how well are we preparing young people for that broader life?” Mr Ang asked the Perth audience.
“Youth ministry is not simply to hold people in the Church when they’re young but it’s there to actually animate and inspire and equip young people to leave youth ministry and become adult disciples.
Mr Ang explained that his research shows that young people aren’t necessarily attracted to parishes and communities that don’t show any life in themselves.
He added that youth ministry therefore, is not just for young people, but one that actually engages the whole Church and asks bigger questions around the Catholic culture we foster to enable young people to be missionaries.
The audience was invited to contemplate on how to ensure that youth ministry does not simply serve the current needs of young people, but actually engages young people to become adult disciples.
Mr Ang said the call of young people to holiness and to mission is not just about young people ministering to young people, it is also about the kind of Catholic culture that enables everyone to receive the call to holiness.
“We live in a post-Christian culture: people still want equality, they want justice, they want mercy – but they want the Kingdom without the King. We want progress without presence, we want equality and justice and mercy, but we want it without the authority of Jesus Christ.
“In terms of evangelisation, young people still want justice, they still want mercy, but perhaps they want it without the King and they miss the fact that it’s the encounter with Christ that leads to true justice, true mercy and true equality.
“If discipleship can’t be assumed, then we actually have something to work with - The Kingdom gets built when people encounter Jesus, they surrender and they make the decision to follow Him.”
He continued by prompting WA’s youth leaders to ask if our youth groups are set up to support and sustain people so that they become adult disciples.
“Can you see the relationship there between the kingdom of God and discipleship?
“We want to transform the world and make God’s reign more and more a reality in our world. “Where is the fruit of our mission currently as a Catholic Church? That’s really the big question for today.
“We are a Church with a sacramental life and hundreds of people receive the sacraments every weekend, but we’re not seeing any fruit so what’s going on there?” Mr Ang asked.
“There is no evidence that simply having a culture of faith will secure the personal decision that you have to make - catechesis is not evangelisation; they are not the same thing.
“Unfortunately, most of us are not spiritual geniuses. If nobody around us ever talks about a given idea, we are no more likely to think of it spontaneously than we are to spontaneously invent a new primary colour. To the extent that we don’t talk explicitly to one another about discipleship, we make it very, very difficult for most Catholics to think about discipleship.
Mr Ang went on to highlight that the current pastoral approach assumes that the sacraments will take care of everything.
This, he explained, neglects our duty to awaken in each person an active and personal faith, one which includes living a sacramental life.
“For certain, the sacraments give us grace to put us in right relationship with God and his life in our soul, nourishing and strengthening us for our discipleship walk – but they’re not meant to replace it!
“Our witness demonstrates what a new life in Christ looks like – in the history of the life of the Church we didn’t have any good material – we had people. Right now, due to a lack of disciples, we may need the materials as a kind of crutch but we need to be careful about allowing them to replace the relationships,” he said.