From the U.S. Catholic interview with Julie Hanlon Rubio:
How would a parish attract families to engage in service and to learn about social justice?
It would start with creating community. With lots of low-key events with free food where people can just get together. In today’s larger parishes we have to create smaller groups within the parish.
If you want your kids to care about parish, it has to be more than a one-stop deal. If they don’t know people there, if they don’t have fun there, if they don’t feel supported, they’re not going to feel connected there. They’re not going to want to invest in that later, either. It’s not going to feel like home if they’re never there.
How can a parish help families get involved in service?
Start by asking: Are we making service a regular part of parish life for families? Is it a part of the religious education program, for example? Could we come together to create community around a nursing home instead of the soccer field?
And then the parish should offer space for reflection. Could we host a session or two and ask parents to reflect on what they’re doing with their time and what they want to be doing? Parishes can give them suggestions, concrete proposals, and offer to partner with them to help make this possible. I’d love to see a panel of couples talking about how they’re trying to integrate their faith into their lives and then have people respond to that. I have never seen anything like that.
People would be reluctant to speak because nobody thinks they’ve got it down, that they’re doing it right. But even just to have a place for conversations like that would be important.
Some families are hesitant to do service with the poor because they think their kids won’t be safe.
One way to start is with children. We organized our parish youth group to take children who were staying at the Catholic Worker shelter to a park or to the zoo. I matched them up one to one with the youth group members, who then really felt like they had something to do. They were just talking to one kid, and that worked out well. And it didn’t feel like service because we were doing something fun.
The truth is that we don’t tend to live close to people who need us. This is where fear comes in: If we’re so worried about keeping our family safe, then we can’t cross those lines. And sometimes we just need to know that it’s an exaggerated fear. People are not often killed on the street.
The ideal is that we move from just helping the poor to actually trying to build some relationships. That would transform parishes and families.
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