Catholic church hopes pope’s visit inspires millennials

Pope Francis addresses Congress in Washington (File photo)

Catholic parishes across Arizona hope lingering excitement over Pope Francis’ visit will inspire lapsed Catholics who are millennials to return.

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Basilica is located less than a mile from Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus, but proximity has not helped the parish attract young people who view Catholicism as their parents’ religion.

“I think it’s very conservative and not as progressive as other religions … and it’s all very old school,” said Maria Lopez, a student at ASU.

During middle school, Maria told her mother that she did not want to be a Catholic and has not been back to Mass since.

And she’s not alone. An increasing number of millennials do not identify with any religious affiliation, and many are former Catholics.

“They’re looking for a faith that supports their life and the people who are important to them. And not a faith that contradicts everything they want to be doing six days out of the week,” said Ariel Koch, an ASU student.

Koch and other students followed the continuous news coverage of the pope’s visit on television and via social media. And parishes across the country want to use that opportunity to continue outreach efforts that encourage young people return to the Catholic Church.

“So what we’re trying to do is to walk with young adults and say, ‘Well, how can we help you develop your personal identity?” said Brother Scott Slattum, coordinator of the Young Adult Ministries at St. Mary’s Basilica.

The Basilica hired Slattum this past summer to engage young people.

Among the questions he asks young people: “Who are you? Who do you want to stand for? How do you want to live your life? And how can our faith tradition maybe help you do that?”

Slattum holds Bible study, workshops and prayer sessions specifically for young adults he describes as “a gift to our church.”

And he regularly updates the church’s Facebook page, where he connects with current members and welcomes newcomers.

The pope’s visit has some young, lapsed Catholics reconsidering.

“I think he is a lot different from what the old generation practice and what they believe in and what they teach their children, so if there was a little more of that in today’s Catholicism, I think I’d be open to it,” Maria Lopez said.