One country offers lessons in how to evangelise young Catholics
At a time when the Church is reflecting on how to attract young people, Portugal does seem to have a thing or two to teach the world about evangelisation. This is borne out by a report, “European Young Adults and Religion”, which found that 27 per cent of young Portuguese Catholics went to weekly Mass – one of the highest proportions of any country in Europe. (In Britain it was 11 per cent.)
One interesting phenomenon is a proliferation of summer camps for children and teenagers. Although some are run by parishes or religious orders, the great majority are organised informally by lay people – generally couples who have children of their own. A priest is present almost all of the time. The result is a spiritual boost which leaves a lasting effect on participants. My own son, aged 11, participated this year for the first time and took to praying the rosary daily with his cousin. (He also helped out around the house much more, although that effect wore off more quickly.) Other parents have had the same experience.
The University Missions are another impressive feature of life. These are organised by the students, who sign up travel to remote or poor areas of the country where they spend a week doing community service, accompanied by a priest, with daily Mass and an intense prayer schedule. The goal is to evangelise the towns or villages where they are staying, but naturally it is the students themselves who feel the greatest effects. One participant says she has lost count of the conversions she has witnessed among fellow “missionaries”, including some vocations to religious life.
The movement began in 2003 with 20 students, but in 2017 more than 2,500 took part in 45 missions. So many tried to enrol that some of these missions filled up in minutes and the central website crashed. The success has led to the creation of associations of Catholic students in almost every university in the country, which in turn has led to the promotion of other activities, both intellectual and spiritual, making campus life more welcoming to Christians.
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