It was reported that according to the Church 2017 census, catholic Mass attendance (in Malta) is set to collapse and that young people are staying away in droves.

The published statistics show that the young are likely to start picking up again in their catholic practices when they reach their mid-30s and gradually increase their attendance at Mass as they get older and older.

Accompanying statistics produced by a Misco survey commissioned by the Church on views on faith, religion and catholicism conducted among 1,000 respondents aged 16 and over, also at the end of 2017, showed that 95 per cent believe in God, 92 per cent believe they are catholics, 68 per cent would become baptised today and 61 per cent consider religion to be very important.

The second study shows a different picture and a more significant andconvincing one.

It is felt that the years of attendance for catechism classes offered by the catholic doctrine society Museum and other religious formation classes all over Malta and Gozo in preparation for the first Holy Communion at seven years, and for Confirmation at 12 years of age, invariably leave an indelible catholic mark on all children in their formative years which they carry with them all their lives. This, thanks to the dedicated work of so many committed catechists, Museum members and also single and married catholics.

There is also the catholic marriage preparation course which, so far, many young catholic couples attend before their catholic marriage. An increasing number of couples contracting a civil marriage are also  attending some of the marriage preparation lectures of the Cana movement.

There is also the extended period of religious instruction which all children and young people in State, Church and private schools still receive until the end of their secondary schooling, towards their 15th and 16th birthdays.

Frequent religious programmes and Masses are transmitted practically on all means of communications.

During the summer months, when religious feasts are being held in all the localities of Malta and Gozo, the lives and virtues of the respective patron saints are proclaimed for the reflection of all parishioners.

All this, inevitably, must be leaving a significant degree of catholic formation which these young people carry with them throughout their lives, wherever they may be.

The real test of catholic living and witness, I think, is not necessarily measured by how many times different age cohorts attend Mass, especially on Sundays. We have to keep in mind that many young people, who are naturally attracted to novelty and sensationalism, probably perceive the Mass to be a repetitive and boring ritual.

The most important thing for a catholic is to be a committed catholic not necessarily a very practising catholic

If not already doing so, the Christian doctrine society Museum and other catholic formation classes should start explaining to little, and not so little children, the beauty and significance of the Beatitudes and the works of mercy, which are the best positive catholic teaching, prominently taught by Christ during His years on earth. These are about each and everyone’s responsibilities towards oneself and towards one’s neighbours, whether close or afar.

Life on earth is, for everybody, inevitably an ongoing journey in interdependence and solidarity, as opposed to living in a ‘globalised jungle’ where the strongest exploit, oppress and usurp the rights of the weakest for their personal gain.

When Christ was asked how one is to live the good life, He replied: “Love your God with all your heart and soul.” And without being asked further, He added: “And the second commandment is like the first: love your neighbour as yourself.”

The Beatitudes say: blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdomof heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

That will be the early foundational formation for future politicians, priests, entrepreneurs, trade unionists, economists, sociologists, teachers, social and care workers, lawyers, doctors, engineers and all other trades and professions. That is, I feel, what really counts.

I dare say that the most important thing for a catholic is to be a committed catholic not necessarily a very practising catholic, meaning high Church attendance.

This even more when we consider the ‘mad world’ all ‘globalised’ men and women are living in at present, everywhere, including Malta. The innumerable pressures which especially the young and married adults have to endure to raise their families, carry out their work obligations and go about their daily lives.

No, to me the situation is not that bad, notwithstanding all the grave predictions, as one might imagine.

The life of man, everywhere, resembles very much the life of the prodigal son in the bible. After adopting an adventurous life for an extended period of time, and having sought pleasure and happiness in all kinds of things, he arrives at a stage when he feels he has missed the real things that can raise his spirits and starts longing to return, until he does, as the prodigal son did, to where he really belongs.

Unfortunately many never return to any kind of spirit-raising experiences and drift into some kind of solitary existence even if they are living with others, only to end up part of some very grim statistics.

That is really bad. Every catholic, whether a churchgoer or not, a compassionate neighbour or a good samaritan, should strive not to let this happen. I feel many, many thousands of Maltese catholics clearly fall in this category, mainly because of their catholic formation and heritage.

A sociological study about contributions to the Malta Community Chest Fund by individuals and local organisations during the last couple of years, especially at Christmastime, will probably show the robust nature, and provenance, of some of the best value practices of the Maltese people, leaving out for the time being the very negative influences on Maltese society of very recent times.

Tony Mifsud studied politics and social affairs in Oxford.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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