Fr. Deacon Andrew Bennett, pictured, authored the study “Still Christian(?).” Among its findings, above, is Catholics lack belief that there is one God in three persons. Photo from Cardus

In evangelization, ‘we have work to do’

  • May 15, 2024

Marycia Kruk has taught Bible and Catholic principles to many children over her two years as the Archdiocese of Winnipeg’s associate director for catechetics. While helping these youngsters develop their faith and prepare to receive the sacraments, she has observed many parents being spiritually enriched by the material.

“There are a lot of parents who only received a few years of formation so this is a really good refresher,” said Kruk. “Sometimes they tell me that they are learning it for the first time through their children. Bringing the parents in at the children’s level helps them reach the next level. I also share the resources that are out there. There is a great renaissance of Catholic living occurring, especially in the United States.”

Kruk refers interested parties to Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Ministries or Fr. Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year podcasts and encourages them to seek out the myriad of Catholic mothers sharing tips online about how to rear faith-filled, God-fearing children. She has also piqued interest in Catholicism by talking about the recognized modern-day Eucharistic miracles because it appeals to individuals who are persuaded by evidence.

Connie Price is the associate director for catechesis for the Archdiocese of Toronto. She told The Catholic Register via email that the archdiocesan approach to formation is informed by the 2020 Directory for Catechesis, which was assembled by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

“The directory guides us in a missionary spirit, that is to meet people where they are and help them to a deeper relationship with the Lord,” said Price. “This necessarily involves attention to sacramental preparation, adult faith formation, ministry with maturing adults, family life, initiation (RCIA), liturgical formation and engagement in parish life through the use of our individual charisms toward the service of others.”

Engagement is perhaps the key word. At a time when there are so many movements, channels and even governmental policies saturating the public square with secular, anti-God narratives and thought patterns, the task is perhaps harder than ever to mold wise and resolute Catholics capable of not succumbing to the secularist tide.

A new research study — “Still Christian(?): What Canadian Christians Actually Believe” — jointly produced by the Cardus think tank and the Angus Reid Institute opinion polling firm  and supported by the Canadian Bible Society, reflects this tough landscape. The major finding of this survey that questioned 1,035 Canadian Christians, including 493 Catholics, suggests there is “significant gap between Canadian Christians’ personal beliefs and church teachings across various denominations.” The viewpoints of committed churchgoers and people who stay away from the pews are reflected in the data.

One example of this “incoherence” includes only 51 per cent of Catholic respondents (compared to 89 per cent of Evangelicals and 57 per cent mainline Protestants) agreeing that “there is one true God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Another is that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ as an historical event is apparently embraced by just 48 per cent of Catholics as opposed to 81 per cent of Evangelicals and 55 per cent of mainline Protestants.

“It’s concerning because if you tick that box and say ‘I am a Catholic,’ you would hope on these most fundamental doctrines — what we may call ‘Mere Christianity,’ a la C.S. Lewis — that people would know these basic things, but unfortunately they don’t,” said Fr. Deacon Andrew Bennett, the author of the report and Cardus’ faith communities program director. 

Bennett pondered if this data is a problem “related to poor catechesis, poor evangelization” or the “impact of secularization.”

Other striking findings in this survey include 54 per cent of Catholic participants agreeing that all religions are equally true and 72 per cent suggesting “Christian moral teachings should evolve with changes in society’s attitudes.”

Bennett said believing that the moral teachings must be contorted or finessed to remain in lockstep with contemporary attitudes “is an incorrect understanding of the Christian faith.”

“The Christian faith is eternally new and a living tradition, but to say that it must evolve to meet the needs of the times or conform with the world— we know based on the teachings that this is not how it works,” said Bennett. “We know the world is sometimes going to go against the Church. Sometimes it will stand with the Church.”

Price and Kruk were both asked to respond to the survey findings.

“My first impression is that as a Church, we have work to do,” said Price. “The survey, to my thinking, reflects the shifts in catechetical content and method over the past 50 years.

“There was not a change in the doctrine for the topics that were addressed in the survey, but in some places there was a change in what was taught, how it was taught or what was emphasized or omitted during a period of tremendous social and cultural change.”

Price also expressed her “fear that the survey respondents have not been taught the beautiful relationship of all four parts” of Church teaching: what we believe; how we celebrate, how we live and prayer. She preaches on this synergetic relationship as a catechist.

Kruk said these findings remind her of the 2019 Pew Research Center Eucharistic study that revealed that just 31 per cent of self-described U.S. Catholic adults believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.

“Something that I think about, honestly, on a weekly if not daily basis is that it seems like there are basically two generations who received very limited instruction in the faith — my generation and my parents’ generation. This is what led to this issue: not receiving more than just a few years of formation as a child. Evangelicals are a bit more focused on continuous education through youth and young adulthood,” said Kruk, who belongs to the millennial generation.

Though the data suggests a problematic landscape in the present, the report does contain promising signs for the future. Fifty-seven per cent of Christians between ages 18-34 who were surveyed “agreed that it was essential to encourage others to embrace the faith,” which significantly outpaces 35-54 group (43 per cent) and those aged 55 or older (36 per cent). Also noteworthy is that 68 per cent in the 18-34 cohort agreed that Jesus’ resurrection was a historical event compared to 56 per cent of Christians of at least 55 years old.

“In an era where Christianity is no longer a given in society, young Christians may be making deliberate, counter-cultural choices to adhere to the beliefs and devotional life of historical Christianity,” said Bennett.

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