By. Fr. VS. Shiimi
The Catholic Church in Namibia as we speak is about 120 years of its existence. In the year 1896, the German Oblate Missionaries came to Namibia for evangelization. This led many Namibian to accept the message of Christ and allowed themselves to be baptized. This did not take only one day or one year but it took many years before the missionaries convinced the Namibian people about Jesus Christ. During that time, Namibia was already under the Rhenish Missionary Society 1829/30. Their purpose was also evangelization. Many people later were baptized and Namibia became a so-called “Christian country.”
From the beginning, the churches, which played a significant role in Namibia when it comes to evangelizations, were Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican. The country suffered so much because of the war which devastated the native, nevertheless, the aforementioned churches contributed immensely to the bring about freedom and peace in the country. They used their spiritual weapon to defend peace and love, which is essential and meant for all God’s people.
When the freedom was achieved, and the country was established, the citizens as well as visitors were given freedom planked within the framework of the country’s constitution. Freedom of religion was given to the people. It gives each person the right to establish his/her church, conduct services and so on, as long as it is not harmful to the Namibian Constitution.
Over the years since independence of Namibia, the Catholic Church and other mainstream Churches like Lutheran and Anglican have experienced a paradigm shift whereby young people (and some elders) started flocking to New Pentecostal Churches. This has caused confusion among young Christians, for they do not know anymore to which church they belong. Today they are at Oshiveva (Pentecostal church) tomorrow they are in their church of origin.
The hypothesis I have drawn to this influx is that, most of the young people who leave the Catholic Church are those that have personal problems and identity crisis in their life. They are those who search for immediate remedy that can sooth their internal conflicts.
A classical study by Bert Ghezzi (2015) one of the Catholic commentator in the United States, revealed that, an “estimated 42 percent of all Catholics leave the church at some time during their lives. At present, more than 50 percent of those dropping out are young Catholics, 25 years of age or younger[…]” However, he continues to write, “The same sociologists who gave us the numbers have also been able to pin down the main reasons why young people leave the Church.
Grappling with these factors may suggest some strategies parents could use to keep their own children close to Christ and the Church.” In another study done by Dean R. Hoge (1981) in his book entitled, “Converts, Dropouts, Returnees,” he classifies young Catholic dropouts into three main categories: (1) family-tension dropouts, (2) Weary dropouts, (3) Lifestyle dropouts
(1.) More than half of young dropouts are in the family-tension category. These young persons experience pressure or problems in their family and at the first chance rebel against their parents and the Church. They usually drop out as soon as they leave home, or when parents relax the pressure. Hoge says that this rebellion against parents takes two forms: (a) In one type of situation, these young persons have received religious education and have attended Mass during childhood and early adolescence yet for various reasons have never internalized or “owned” their faith. They do not identify with the faith or with the Catholic Church. As they grow older, they feel no motivation to go to church, and as soon as family pressure is off, they drop out. (b) The other form comprises a general rebellion by the youth against their families and all their families stand for. This situation is laden with emotion; when one talks with the youth one hears long histories of bad feelings, most of which are unrelated to church going or religion. The youths may charge the church with faults and weaknesses, but these charges are not explanations for their behavior; they are rationalizations (Ghezzi: 2015).
(2.) Weary or “bored” dropouts are persons who no longer have any motivation for attending church, and a large number of young Catholics who leave fit this description. They usually give some recent external event as a reason for their leaving, such as a job change or a conflict with their pastor, but the deeper reason is internal. Hoge says of weary dropouts: “An inner faith and spiritual life is lacking; hence motivation is weak.” (3.) Another large group of young Catholics leaves the Church because their lifestyle conflicts with Church teaching. Usually their difficulties stem from moral problems in the area of sex, premarital sex, or cohabitation. Faced with the option of changing their behavior or leaving the Church, they drop out. Even if these young Catholics have internalized their faith — and it can be safely assumed that most have not — their religious commitment is not match for their sexual activity or relationships.
Having presented what the classical studies brought out, this article is part of the research I have conducted toward the end of last year 2015. I am urged to share with you some of the reason I were given by the young people mostly from Windhoek responding to the inquisitive question, “why people leave the church?” Their responses are as follows: 1. There is some misunderstanding between Church and Science that causes contradiction and skepticism., 2. They want their problems to be solved in no time, which is not experienced in the Catholic Church., 3. In the Catholic Church, divorced and remarried persons are not welcome; they are viewed as adulterous and sinners., 4. They are more likely to get married younger in new church (es) due to the fact that they dream of who to marry (they marry members of their church)., 5. They complain about the quality of homilies as well as poor liturgical celebration (they feel bored and sleepy during mass/com. services)., 6. Some said, “I just go to listen to the preaching but my church remains catholic.”, 7. They want to be born again.
What lessons can we learn from these sociological studies?
There are significant clues that could lead us to strategies in order to keeping our young people Catholics. We must help Young Catholics Develop a Personal Relationship with God. Young Catholic dropouts/ moves/leaving, fall into different categories, but their underlying condition is the same. They have not “internalized” their faith, they are limited to “externals,” they do not “own” their Catholic religion, they don’t “identify” with the Catholic church, they have no “intrinsic motivation,” “inner faith,” or “spiritual life.” The following could be planks in our strategy: • Organized Prayer meetings, Scripture study, constant spiritual talks by priests, sisters or lay leaders, involvement in renewal movements — all are avenues we should pursue. • We should make God present in the catholic homes through family prayers and by speaking to our young people about their relationship with God. • We should teach the young people what the Catholic Church teaches.
The reality is, we must do whatever we can, no matter how puny it may seem, and trust God to accomplish the goal of saving our young Catholics. Therefore, the best and most effective plank in our plan must be prayers, not prayers alone but prayers with good and winning strategies guided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised repeatedly to grant any request we make in his name. In other words, when we pray according to his will, we can be sure our prayer will be answered. What could be more in line with his will than bringing our young people to know, love, and serve God and to live with him forever? We have to work hard to accomplish this responsibility.