An apologetics for Youth Ministry

Pope Benedict XVI in his introduction to the Youth Catechism (YouCat) said to young people: “You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer.” Experiential and anecdotal evidence would suggest that young people don’t know their faith in this way and some disagree with Church teaching. Youth ministry is supposed to play a key role in evangelisation and catechesis but many young people involved are still indifferent to their faith, in belief and practice. This leads us to consider: is youth ministry working? There is a need to respond to the challenges of our time and to genuinely listen to young people who are a source of hope in the Church. What are their concerns and challenges of the faith for in an increasingly secular post-modern world? And ultimately, are youth ministers ready and equipped to engage in apologetics and givea reason for their hope and faith when young people call upon them?

The study begins by setting the context of current Catholic youth ministry in Ireland and its development over the years. There is a particular emphasis on the Diocese of Down and Connor and input from Bishop Donal McKeown. We listen to key commentators who suggest that many young people are ‘poorly catechised’, ‘overly sacramentalised’ and ‘not evangelised’ and we consider the youth ministry response. We reflect on the lives of young people living in a rapidly changing post-modern Ireland and the impact this has on their lives. Finally, we consider the role of apologetics in tackling some of these challenges and determining the role
of youth ministry.

In the next section, the research methodology is identified with an action research approach adopted. This is integral to the research and improves youth ministry practice as a result of this study and ensures that young people needs and apologetic concerns are responded to sufficiently. The quantitative and qualitative responses gathered give some indication of the significant impact and difference youth ministry is making in the lives of young people but also some gaps in provision and room for potential improvements.

The proceeding chapter examines and acknowledges the impact of youth ministry on young people. It also highlights the disparity between young 2 people’s needs and priorities and that of the Catholic youth ministry, which raises many questions. The young people identify some of their apologetic concerns and the challenges they face in being Catholic in a post-modern, increasingly secular Northern Ireland. The growing problem of ‘a la carte’ Catholic’s is highlighted alongside the challenge of the Church being relevant in the lives of young people. We finish this chapter by asking the youth ministers to respond to ten apologetic concerns that young people have identified as pertinent. It is obvious from the outset that there is a lack of theological language or knowledge in their responses but their pastoral responses are admirable. Similarly to the researcher, the youth ministers felt a certain sense of inadequacy in their approach and the responses given. They also acknowledged that better training and support is needed and apologetics is a necessary component of youth ministry.

Finally, we conclude by identifying key learning and recommendations from this research which will hopefully improve practice in Catholic youth ministry. The research has highlighted the necessity for apologetics in youth ministry and it has established that youth ministers need to be ready to give an explanation for the reason for their hope and faith, and to do so with humility and holiness.

Joe McKeown

Joe works for Youth Link NI, and teaches on the CYM course in Ireland.