“Let the children come to me,” said Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. But where are the children? That’s a common question today, not only in our missions, but in big city parishes too. Children represent the future, hope, life energy. In baptism parents play a major role in being the first teachers of faith. If parents neglect this responsibility, we all pay a price.
What is the future of our Faith in Canada? Everywhere I travel I keep wondering why young families and young people aren’t coming to Mass. I see other denominations diminishing. I see Catholic churches closing or merging into one parish. Some bishops ask me whether they should reopen a mission to see if anyone would come or whether to close a mission because no one is coming?
We continue to baptize children and may see them again for First Communion and maybe for Confirmation. If they last that long, will we see them for marriage? It’s so discouraging to know that some children are falling through the cracks faith-wise.
It is rare that I interact with children in our missions. Some come as grandchildren of those attending Mass. They scurry about and then are gone. In some places where they rarely see a priest, I still get the chance to baptize. Grandparents worry that their Catholic legacy is dying. Often, I wonder how a church can stay open when only a few are attending, and the priest must travel hours to get there (it’s only possible through grants from CMIC)? Is it the best use of donors’ funds? It’s a difficult question. No one wants to close a church, especially when there is no other church in the vicinity. In Attawapiskat, the Catholic community wants a church building desperately, but can’t afford it. In Ross River, the bishop suppressed the mission because no one was going. One bishop decided to reinvest in a mission church and started to rebuild when it was discovered that to continue was cost prohibitive. There are all kinds of different stories. CMIC has limited funds. The maximum a bishop can apply for is $75,000 per project. It’s a proverbial drop in the bucket for building a church. Our missions are not expanding. When the eldest generation is gone, there are few to follow. It’s depressing really.
There are signs of hope though. Every now and then I come across a family that is really dynamic and steeped in Faith. These are usually large families who support one another and spend lots of time together – like a miniature church. Some have boys who want to be priests and attend pre-seminary schools. The Holy Spirit hasn’t given up yet. The Faith is not dead. I was so impressed by the people I met in northern Newfoundland who, despite terrible histories, still go to Mass and are involved. Our donors are a great sign of hope to me in that they see a future in the missions and want to help. When I get discourage, I think of our donors’ generosity. “You’re doing a wonderful job Father, don’t let it get you down.” Everywhere I go I met wonderful people who love their Faith.
Congregation may dwindle and some churches may close, but not all. We may have to get used to smaller numbers, but need to remember that the Lord said he would never abandon us. The history of the Church is such that it has gone through these types of periods before. As some religious Orders come to an end, others begin. Where once North American priests and sisters went to the developing world as missionaries, the situation is now reverse. The world is a big place – strong in one area, weak in another. The Grimard children in the photo are always fun to be with, as are the Lefebvre’s children and others when I was a missionary. The Lord is in charge. I can sleep tonight.