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Why all the fuss about angels?

Where are our young people?

Russian Orthodoxy, Lenin

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placeholder September 19, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Where are our young people?

I will not be surprised if the present generation of young people coming of age will go down as the most researched and studied generation of any to date. For the most part, the studies are encouraging.

The work of William Strauss and Neil Howe raised the bar with their study entitled “Millennials Rising: The Next Generation,” published by Vintage in 2000. It is a good and uplifting read. The claim made is that this generation is more trusting of adults, open to new ideas, anxious to make a serious contribution to the world and one that is markedly more spiritual than the preceding generations.

Some of these findings resonate in the Princeton study of Youth and Religion conducted in two phases from 2001-2005, with a follow-up investigation of some of the same young people coursing through their college years, which ended in 2009.

Christian Smith published these findings in “Soul-Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers” (2005) and “Souls in Transition: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults” (2009) published by Oxford University Press. These studies explore in greater detail the findings of Strauss and Howe by unpacking the idea that these young people are more spiritual, but not necessarily religious.

Rather than a turning away from traditional faiths, they are mostly disinterested. Nothing has set them on fire. Issues of God, faith and the spiritual life are held in what Smith calls “benign whateverism.” To be sure, there is an openness to anything meaningful that may seize them, but for far too many, nothing has captured their imagination.

A study published in 2010 makes similar claims from a business point of view and adds a few more. Lynne Lancaster’s book, “The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace,” published by Harper Business, sharpens its focus on the latter part of the Millennial Generation referring to that segment only now coming of age, as “Echo-Boomers.” This study suggests that this target group has a strong relationship with their parents and sets very high standards for themselves in every area of life. They are marked by a desire to work as a team and to work for a common goal. They also expect their work — even their first jobs — to be meaningful and not simply a money-making venture.

The pieces are in place. We have a new generation that is smarter and deeper than most. It is a generation that demands the best in themselves. Is this not the hope of the Church? What must we do to fire this generation with the mission of Jesus to transform the world into the Kingdom of God?

We have the best tools at our disposal with a generation aching for the most meaningful enterprise to pursue. Are we engaging and inviting this force for good? Are we challenging their unrest to mold a future that is meaningful for the planet? Is their unrest and their desire prodding us into action?

It seems we have a rare moment to act and a great opportunity for deepening in all the ranks of the Church and in all corners of the globe. Let us not waste this moment. Look around. Where are your young people? Do you know where your echo-boomer is?

(Father John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, and an adjunct professor at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.)


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