The question we should be asking ourselves, according to Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, is not ‘When did the young lose Christ? (because I don’t believe that they truly have)’ but ‘When did we lose being young in Christ?’ In the 2023 Patrick Oration, the Archbishop called on the people of God to ‘rediscover the young Church’ and to reclaim a vital, reinvigorated faith—one that will ‘lead us out into the world’.

The Archbishop delivered the fourth annual Patrick Oration at the Catholic Leadership Centre on Friday 17 March 2023, the feast day of St Patrick, patron saint of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Speaking to a gathering of civic, religious and community leaders, both old and young, as well many more who tuned in via Channel 31 or on YouTube, the Archbishop observed that when the question of young people in the Church is raised, it is often framed in terms of ‘Where have all our young people gone?’

‘Every time that question is asked in Church circles, there is a poignancy to it,’ he said. ‘Parents and grandparents, and older generations of Catholics, struggle with it, are perplexed by it, lament over it. Where are all our young people?’

The question of young people in the Church has been, by far and wide, the most asked question in the life of the Church over the past half century.

‘There is an answer—in fact many answers—to the question as to where some of our young people are,’ he said. ‘To be sure, they are not gathering in the numbers that Ed Sheeran can attract, but they are around. On any given day, you may be quietly surprised just how many are engaging earnestly and fruitfully with their faith. There are young Catholics searching for a relationship with Christ and a place in the Church.’

Archbishop Comensoli pointed to and reflected on the many communities and initiatives that do attract young people, seeing in them signs of hope. He also wondered whether we have been asking the ‘wrong questions’ and looking for solutions in the wrong places. While young people are absent from ‘the conventional ways of being parish’, that doesn’t mean they are nowhere to be found.

‘A young person’s horizon looks to how he or she belongs, not where … Belonging, for them, is considerably more fluid and largely centred on culture. Young people find themselves, and their connections, by finding communities of common interest, often enough within digital locations. So, expecting young Catholics to go to our faith locations misses where they are at and how they get there.’

‘Our youth are not a “project” to be dealt with. If we see only a problem to solve (born of a deep care for them), then we risk losing sight of where the young are finding Christ,’ he said.

Pointing out that ‘Jesus’ entire earthly life fell within our measure of a young person’, he suggested that it is Christ’s ‘eternal youthfulness’ that holds the key, not just to what attracts and engages young people, but to how the whole mission of the Church might be renewed and made more vital:

Our Redeemer is young because he is alive. He radiates life, drawing all other lives into his. But if Jesus Christ is gloriously young, then his Body, the Church, is meant to be young. This is the Church our young people want to discover, one that is vital and alive in Christ.

‘Our common task is to rediscover the young Church; not to remake the Church for the young. Our own faith needs to lead us out into the world.’

To everyone present and tuning in, Archbishop Comensoli offered a simple and concrete idea, particularly for our schools.

‘What if each of our schools sets up a kind of RCIA club—that is, a club of young Catholics, happy in their faith, introducing Jesus, and a life of faith, to their peers, and inviting them to incorporation into the Church. Call it the Acutis Club, after that young Italian teenager who liked using his devices to find Jesus in the Eucharist. Or call it the Lisieux Club, after that young French woman who couldn’t help herself loving the community she belonged to. Or perhaps call it the Glowrey Club, after the young Melburnian doctor who helped form the first Catholic women’s group in Australia. Whatever it’s called, it matters that our young people find a sense of belonging that is meaningful to them.’

‘None of this is rocket science, yet we seem to hold back, waiting for a wind change from somewhere else. Only, that is not where the wind of the Holy Spirit comes from. Its source is in us.’

Young people yearn for a Church that is young with them, that can go out with them. Today, that is the Church we are meant to be. Each one of you is the now of God, and all of us are part of building trust which fosters faith in Christ, who is inviting us to walk his Way, to tell his Truth, and to live his Life.