The Catholic youth in Mumbai today is a mix of young people with varying views; some are devout, some question faith, and then there are those who have their doubts and are sceptical. Attracting teenagers and twenty-somethings to the church has become a task, because a significant portion of the new generation is agnostic. It is very difficult for the church to engage them and make sure they consistently attend every prayer service.
However, some parishes have overcome this obstacle. I spoke to members of the church and young church-goers to found out what it is that they do to attract the youth.
The Pokémon fever in India was so strong that even parishes could not escape it. The church organised a youth get-together known as a Daenery Youth Day (DYD) for the suburbs of Kandivali, Malad and Goregaon, and it was based on this cartoon series. The main organiser of this event was a 19-year-old herself. At this event, the theme, posters, games, and decorations were all Pokémon-based. The participants were divided into groups which were named after the different elements of the Pokémon series. They had to design flags and come up with tag lines for their element. Every time their team won a game, they had to wave their flags and shout out their slogans. This made the participants eager for the games that were to come and kept up their excitement levels.
The church didn’t just stop at childhood games; it has also explored dating and relationships! It seems well aware of the importance that we as young adults give to dating. A game similar to speed dating was played as a part of the DYD event. A clock drawn on cardboard was handed out to the participants, and they were given 5 minutes to find 12 dates and learn about three qualities of each. The only rule was that none of their dates should be from their own locality. Not only was this game fun, but it was also a pleasant surprise. In my 18 years I have never gotten a single date, and here I managed to get 12 in just 5 minutes!
There was also a jam session after the program, where a mix of famous English songs, from the Birdy dance to Coldplay’s ‘Hymn For The Weekend were played’. Then the DJ started playing Hindi songs too, and the crowd danced. Daniel, a member of Malwani’s St Anthony parish, says, “Activities like these introduced me to people who live close by but with whom I have never really spoken.”
Song and dance is finding its way into prayer groups too, where praise for God and worship also involves singing action hymns – hymns where people must follow certain actions while singing. One particular group that includes people who play the electric guitar and sing have taken the lead in these prayer groups. The music that they play makes the crowd more enthusiastic and the sessions more enjoyable.
Apart from fun and games, the church is also lending a helping hand to youngsters when it comes to more serious matters, such as their career plans. A program called ‘Take Charge’ aims at providing career guidance by asking students questions about their aspirations and likes. After filling out a form that analyses their aptitudes, they are given the opportunity to meet experienced professionals who belong to the industry they are suited for. The students have to meet the professionals once a month to know how they can reach their goals and if they are on the right track. Since it is so easy to get confused at our age, this has helped us to set more defined goals. Alrica, a member of Malwani’s St Anthony parish, says, “This program taught me about music and brought me closer to it. I always wanted to pursue a career in music, and this program showed me the path to achieve it.”
But it’s not just events and programs that are making the church more approachable; it has to do with the people who make up the church themselves too. The priests believe that it is the youth and those who are in their twenties and thirties who can understand young people and come up with innovative ideas to bridge the gap between them and religion. They support and organise events so that the young interact with their surroundings and their peers. By giving them the space to express their ideas and a place to serve, a positive connection is created between the church and the youth. The youth also develops a new perception of the church. Father Xavier of the St Anthony parish says, “The main goal of the church is to bring the children of God closer to him.”
After speaking to and getting to know the Catechism teachers, I found that they are open-minded and friendly. Many of these teachers are counsellors, so they understand how youngsters think, what issues they face, and talk to them accordingly. Many youngsters talk to them and feel much better after having shared their experiences. These Catechism teachers are very welcoming of ideas such as evolution. They are the ones who have the strongest connect with the youth. After speaking to people from various age groups, I found one common observation. They said that it was because of these activities and events that they got involved and started working and helping the church in some way, whether it was something as simple as playing the guitar or taking up more concrete tasks like organizing events and leading social youth groups. Joel, a youth leader, says “I started working for the church after my twenties, and that’s my only regret. I wish I’d started a little sooner. I began by attending a youth gathering and haven’t parted ways with the church ever since.”