EDITORIAL | Opening the door to joy

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A new Pew Research Center survey shows that there is a continuing decline in the number of people who consider themselves part of any religion. The largest shift is occurring among the "millennial" generation, generally defined as those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

The survey, conducted in 2014, revealed that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians has declined by 8 percent since the last survey in 2007. Forty-one percent of respondents who said they were raised Catholic no longer identify with the faith.

The findings do not come as a surprise, and we know the reasons for people leaving the faith are varied.

Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, Minn., who delivered the keynote speech at the annual Archbishop's Gospel of Life Prayer Breakfast in St. Louis this week, said that we have to find new ways of approaching young people to share the joy of the Gospel. When we speak of things such as "love the sinner, hate the sin," all young people hear is "hate the sin," and they tune out, Bishop Sirba said.

The Church must find new approaches to reach those no longer connected with the faith, Bishop Sirba said.

"The key work in evangelization is introducing people to Jesus Christ and the joy of the Gospel of Life," he said. After they've met Jesus and a personal relationship is developed, "then the moral teaching of the Church begins to take root."

In his apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium," Pope Francis wrote that Christians have an obligation to proclaim the Gospel to all. To do that, Christians must first experience the joy of the Gospel themselves.

"Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet," Pope Francis wrote. "It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but 'by attraction.'"

It's estimated that youths receive more than 3,000 messages a day from our culture. Bishop Sirba asked, "How many do you think they receive from the Church?" There is an extraordinary pressure for young people to fall to relativism, and the doorway to abandoning the faith is wide open.

As a Church, we cannot give quick, oversimplified answers. We need to answer questions that their hearts are asking, and we need to learn more about the culture. We can only open the door to Jesus' life-giving message by developing relationships and meeting them where they're at.

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