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11/27/2012 10:52:00 AM
Study shows need for evangelization
Catholic News Service
The English version of Pope Benedict XVI's new book,
Catholic News Service
The English version of Pope Benedict XVI's new book, "The Infancy of Jesus," is seen among copies in other languages during a press conference for the release of the book to journalists at the Vatican Nov. 20.
Catholic News Service

Here is an unsigned editorial from Catholic New York, newspaper of the New York Archdiocese.

A new study that found a rise in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans highlights a disturbing trend, and poses a challenge to faith communities of all kinds.

The proportion of young people who say they're not affiliated with any religion is particularly troubling, with one-third of adults under 30 saying they're "nothing in particular" when asked about religion -- nearly 5 percent higher than four years ago. Compare that 30 percent to the 15 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds who say they're unaffiliated and you'll see where things seem to be headed.

It's true that the Pew study, released Oct. 9 and called "'Nones' on the Rise," found that the rate of self-identified Catholics has remained steady at about 22 percent. But it's also true that that number can be attributed to immigration from Latin America (Latinos tend to be Catholic). And even Catholics who don't regularly practice their faith tend to continue describing themselves as Catholic, possibly masking a larger percentage of nonaffiliates.

Already, many church analysts are viewing this study as a wake-up call.

We agree with them, and we also agree with the church leaders and observers who see in these results an opportunity as well -- an opportunity to refocus on mission and evangelization aimed at introducing, or reintroducing, the Christian faith.

Certainly the church is committed to doing just that. Look no further than the Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI and launched Oct. 11, to see the church's commitment to her own renewal. "Let's put forth who Jesus Christ is first," the pope said, thereby allowing the love that will radiate from our relationship with Jesus to touch those around us.

It's an approach that may offer an especially good opening to the religiously unaffiliated, given that more than two-thirds of them told Pew researchers that they believe in God and more than half said they consider themselves spiritual or religious.

Bishops from around the world, including our own Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, are right now convening at the Vatican at the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization -- an effort toward rejuvenating the faith of Catholics caught up in the secular cultures of the developed world. We're sure that all of them are aware of the challenges they face, and we pray they'll find a path forward.

In the meantime, it would do well for all of us who believe in God and in the church to pay attention to what most of those unaffiliated people told the surveyors: that faith institutions are too concerned with money and power, focus too much on rules and are too involved with politics.

Accurately or not, that is a strong perception by a group of people who by and large believe in God and consider themselves spiritual. To counter it will not be easy and will take some thinking outside the box.

Those of us who are "affiliated" would do well to use this Year of Faith to participate in the year's special observances and events, offering our joy in Christ as an example to those who see only rules, politics and power plays in organized religion.

What they need to see, as the pope said, is a way to put Jesus first.

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