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Fraying Faith

Survey of Catholic families shows need for evangelization

by Mark Pattison

A survey commissioned by Holy Cross Family Ministries provides insights into the faith practices of young Catholic families.

One of the more surprising findings is that Hispanics now make up a solid majority of Catholic families where the parents are ages 25-45, the age group targeted by the survey.

Another is that more than two-thirds of families make no provision for the faith formation of their children, either by sending them to a Catholic school or by enrolling them in a parish religious education program.

The prevalence of Hispanics as the heads of young families "really tells us a lot about where we need to focus a lot of our resources, time, energy and our own prayer as well," said Holy Cross Father Willy Raymond, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, in an Oct. 1 interview with Catholic News Service.

Holy Cross Family Ministries, which is based in Easton, Massachusetts, and includes the Family Rosary and Family Theater Productions, is developing a strategic plan that it hopes to fine-tune when its board meets in November, aiming for a rollout in January, according to Father Raymond.

The catechesis issue is not in Holy Cross Family Ministries' purview, he said, but a lack of faith formation in families "really bodes ill for the future. If they're not exposing their children to the richness of the faith in all its dimension, it's very hard to see how they will have a sense of identity as Catholics, or a sense of affection for the church or the body of Christ in a place that is truly their home for a lifetime and beyond. That's really some distressing news."

Father Patrick Peyton, who founded Holy Cross Family Ministries, coined the phrase, "The family that prays together stays together." However, the survey, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, showed that 76 percent of young Catholics pray, but they prefer to pray individually, with only 7 percent preferring to pray as a family.

"They are praying, and that's important. But their prayer life, like a lot of religious expression in the United States at the moment, tends to be privatized," Father Raymond said. "It tends to be between me and God. What we're hoping we can help them to make that big step from praying alone to praying with your spouse and praying with your children. We hope to bring them to a place where we can bring them to a high place, to a new level of engagement, with the living God, our Lord, and the saints."

Father Peyton also promoted the rosary, and the survey paints a grim picture there as well, with 64 percent of respondents saying they don't pray the rosary, 5 percent praying it less than once a year, and 15 percent praying it a few times a year. Among the comments survey respondents gave as to why they don't pray the rosary: "I think one Hail Mary is as good as 10"; "my mother does it for me"; and "I never seem to have the time or think about doing it. Now I feel guilty!"

"That's no surprise," Father Raymond told CNS, noting a less-formal survey conducted 10 years ago in connection with a DVD release on the rosary found similarly discouraging results. When people were asked about the rosary then, he said, "they all know what it is. They think it's primarily used by older persons at funerals. No one had ever taught them to pray it. They don't have any instruction on it. They all know about it, and very few use it."

Father Raymond said he wants to introduce the rosary as "a more contemplative form of prayer to create a unity and a bond that is very different from private individual prayer."

Family Theater Productions started with weekly radio shows -- Father Raymond said 500 episodes have been digitally remastered so that "they sound better than they did originally" -- and crossed over to television, featuring stars such as Bing Crosby and Loretta Young, and giving early credits in their careers to the likes of James Dean and George Lucas. Family Theater still produces half-hour programs for distribution, although, the priest noted, finding airtime for them on commercial television is virtually impossible with the removal 30 years ago of local stations' public-interest obligations.

Even so, with the profusion of cable TV, only 3 percent said they watch religious programming very much, and 58 percent said they don't watch it at all. Among Catholic parents, 47 percent said they were unaware of Catholic media, and 30 percent were indifferent to it.

However, when asked where they look for Catholic information and resources, "the top place that they go to was the parish bulletin," Father Raymond said. "It's counterintuitive to me. I would have thought Google or some other social media platform. But the parish bulletin is a really important resource to them. ... If I were a pastor in a parish and I saw that, I would make sure that this instrument is as useful as it can be."

CARA conducted the national survey, titled "Practice of Faith in the Catholic Family," last fall. The survey, which included interviews, was completed by 1,014 self-identified Catholic parents of a minor child at home. It has sampling margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.