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Survey finds fervor among young French Catholics

Young French Catholics bound for World Youth Day this August are marked by their fervor and willingness to go against the current, a new survey has found. 

The opening Mass of the Academia Christiana summer university in 2016. Academia Christiana via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

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The survey, published by the Catholic weekly La Croix, offered insights into the thinking of the more than 30,000 youngsters expected to travel from France to Lisbon for the Aug. 1-6 event.

Researchers said that 75% of those surveyed said they attended Mass at least once a week, and 24% several times a week. 

Previous studies have found that just 7% of all young baptized Catholics in France attend Mass weekly, meaning that World Youth Day pilgrims stand out among their peers.

Asked why they attended Mass, 47% said they were seeking “a moment of intimate encounter with Jesus and spiritual renewal,” and 24% were attracted by “the celebration of a sacred mystery.”

Sociologist Yann Raison du Cleuziou told La Croix that the figures showed that “the Mass occupies a central place in their spiritual experience and therefore in their identity.” 

He suggested that they were drawn more by a desire for a personal encounter with God than to take part in a collective celebration, as in previous generations.

The survey also found that pilgrims were open to the Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Missal, also known as the “Traditional Latin Mass.” France is considered to be one of the world’s leading centers of Catholic traditionalism.

Almost 20% said they attended such Masses occasionally, while 11% liked it as much as the vernacular Mass, and 8% preferred it. Only 12% saw it as “an unnecessary step backward.” 

The survey’s results were published on the eve of the annual pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres, which attracts tradition-minded Catholics from all over the world. Organizers said that a record 16,000 people signed up this year, half of whom were under the age of 20.  

More than half of those surveyed — who were 40% male and 60% female — said it was “rewarding to be identified as a Catholic among the young people of their generation,” while 51% had considered becoming either a priest or religious.

The survey also examined the young Catholics’ political leanings. Researchers classified 52% as having an affinity for the right, 14% for the far right, 8% for the center, 7% for the left, and 5% for ecopolitics.

"It’s not Catholicism that’s tilting to the right,” argued sociologist Raison du Cleuziou, “but Catholicism on the right that’s perpetuating itself better than Catholicism on the left.” 

Regarding the role of women in the Church — a topic that has dominated the global synodal process — 33% said that “women have enough recognition in the Church,” while 31% thought women need more recognition, but without admission to the diaconate or priesthood.

A quarter agreed with the statement that “Catholics should not be judged or identified on the basis of their sexual orientation,” while a third said that Catholics who identify as LGBT “have their place in the Church insofar as they do not promote homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality.” Around a fifth said that “you can’t be Catholic and practice homosexuality.”

La Croix’s senior editor Jérôme Chapuis suggested that the survey confirmed a “major trend.”

“These young Catholics — among the most committed — seem to be swimming against the tide of their elders. Their sensitivity to liturgy, their relationship with the institution, their societal options: on all these subjects, the majority are out of step with the generations that preceded them,” he wrote.

Charles Mercier, the author of a history of World Youth Days, told La Croix that the event typically attracted more committed Catholics who were closest to the institutional Church.

Given the expense of traveling to the event, pilgrims are also more likely to be from higher socio-economic backgrounds, unless they are from the host country.

“Those who have access to powerful chaplaincy services are those who are studying and therefore belong to higher categories with strong social capital,” Mercier said of the French pilgrims. 

La Croix compiled the survey, carried out on May 7-11, by contacting pilgrims who had registered for World Youth Day via the French bishops’ conference, the Emmanuel Community, the Chemin Neuf Community, and the Community of Saint Martin. There were 4,028 complete responses.


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