Aiming high so students reach spiritual potential

  • September 21, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - In countries such as Canada, the Catholic Church may not be facing a crisis, but neither is it reaching its potential, says Richard Rymarz, a professor of theology at St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta.

Kim Gottfried, director of chaplaincy at Toronto’s Ryerson University, wants to change that.

In his paper “Going Beyond the Plateau: Ministry to Young Catholic Adults in the Third Millennium,” Rymarz assumes Catholic youth and young adults reach a plateau of religious involvement and commitment relatively early in life.

Gottfried said Rymarz’s points didn’t really sink in for her until much later, after she re-read his paper.

One case study described a boy in his early teens who was attending church because he wanted to, and not simply because his family attended. But he wasn’t getting any spiritual development in his faith.

“By the time he was 18 he was deepening his faith and doing more jobs and serving on the parish council,” Gottfried said. “But he never described his relationship to Jesus. That surprised me, that Catholic youth are reluctant to talk about their faith in Christocentric terms.”

She was struck by Rymarz’s observations about cognitive development. Students continue developing their knowledge of various subjects while exposed to new ideas and concepts that are often contradictory to Catholic teachings, but aren’t getting the spiritual development in Catholicism’s beliefs and practices.

“What I’ve seen is even though they might not fully understand what the church teaches about evolution or science, they begin to see church teaching as implausible,” Gottfried said.

Rymarz helped Gottfried to realize that a chaplaincy, especially on more secular campuses, must not only provide friendship, consolation and prayer, but also some type of formation.

“But Rymarz said it’s important to put resources towards the active Catholics that show up so they can be the peer mentors, the evangelists today,” Gottfried said.

Another problem Rymarz notes is that the students are alienated or lose interest quickly in spiritual services because they don’t get what they’re looking for.

“Rymarz suggests that their questions aren’t getting answered so we need to listen carefully to what they’re actually asking,” said Gottfried.

After reflecting on the needs of students at Ryerson, Gottfried has decided to not only focus on creating social structures, but to do so in venues this year where students can get cogent answers. She hopes to invite a series of speakers throughout the school year to speak about important topics in the faith such as ecumenism and sexuality.

A difficult recommendation to tackle is Rymarz’s suggestion of providing role models. Gottfried hopes that showing movies about different Catholic saints will begin to address that need.

For David Thurton, 20, the resources the chaplaincy offers play an important role.

He said while he could describe himself as having reached a plateau in his faith, after coming to university from a Catholic high school where prayer and Catholic values are inescapable, he feels like he could keep moving forward with the help of that chaplaincy presence.

“I think I’m at that plateau but I’m at the height. I’m being patient even though you have those dry periods. You’re bored sometimes, you’re restless, you’re hungering for something more and in a way I’m getting fed here,” Thurton said.

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