When I became bishop in the Diocese of Camden in 2004, my first goal was to listen to your concerns about the future of our church.
As a result, I visited all our parishes and conducted listening sessions. One regular theme I heard was how so many of us are missed every Sunday around the Eucharistic table. I heard in particular the anguish of lifelong, faith-filled Catholics, whose sons and daughters have fallen from regular practice.
As a result, we’ve made evangelization, particularly to young adults, a priority. Next month, we hope to spark discussion when we unveil the results of a study the diocese commissioned on the faith lives of the population of the six counties of South Jersey that comprise the Diocese of Camden. We hope this discussion will give us a better understanding of how to reach inactive Catholics.
The study was done by the Barna Group, a firm which specializes in studying faith values and beliefs. What we asked Barna to do was to take a no-holds barred view of our community, particularly probing how we can better bring non-practicing Catholics back to the Eucharistic table.
We will be presenting the full picture soon, but I’ll offer a small preview here. What Barna discovered was that roughly a third of the people in our area describe themselves as Catholics; of that number, roughly half attend Mass at least once a month and consider faith to be important in their lives.
In our discussions here, that level of faith participation, while not nearly enough, was better than what we anticipated.
What intrigued me in particular in Barna’s data was its conclusion about why so many self-described Catholics don’t attend weekly Mass. While much attention has been focused on disputes about Church teaching, what was intriguing about the study was the high number of people who don’t attend simply because they have other priorities.
Catholic respondents who don’t attend Mass frequently say they are distracted by other concerns, including work, sports and family time, which become a pull on weekend activities. We need to emphasize that worship time can also be a part of family time as well.
These findings are both troubling — to those of us imbued with the great gift of Catholic spirituality Sunday Mass remains a high point — it is also a challenge as we begin to deepen our evangelization efforts.
We need to address a wide range of questions, such as:
How can we make the relationship with Jesus and His Father important to people? How do we help people get anchored in a world that tosses them around via hardships of unemployment, family concerns, health issues, immigration matters and education?
I am determined that the Barna Study of our diocese will not languish on bookshelves. I hope it will become a guidepost as we chart our way in engaging the wider culture of South Jersey. It will be made available on our diocesan website, and excerpts will be published in our parish bulletins and in the Catholic Star Herald.
In future months, we intend to present a plan to address our evangelization concerns so well highlighted in this study. Maybe you have some ideas as well.
Why do so many self-described Catholics not attend weekly Mass? What can the Church do to help bring them back?
I’m interestied in hearing what you have to say. Please address concerns via email to Peter Feuerherd, our communications director, at Peter.Feuerherd@camdendiocese.org, or via post directly to me at 631 Market St., Camden, NJ 08102.