Don’t tell God, but I might have to skip church today. It’s Sunday night and I’m desperately trying to finish my homework. No time for worship, only time to desperately search the Internet for homework answers. The only reason I’m still considering going to mass is the free cookies. As a college student, free food is always appealing. With a minute to spare I grab my shoes and hustle to hear the word of God. Mostly though, for the free cookies. I don’t think I’m alone in the constant struggle of prioritizing God. Especially when it comes to millennials, here in Spain I’ve experienced the disconnect first hand.
Every Sunday I see very few individuals my age at church. Everyone is either ten years younger or thirty years older. Maybe I’m going to the wrong churches or maybe I’m just bad at guessing people’s ages. Either way I can’t ignore the age gap any longer. At school, I go to mass close to campus and there’s plenty of people my age. Let’s be honest, probably for the cookies. At home, there’s plenty of families and a wide age range. But here? Where my millennials at!? I know Spain has an aging population but I’ve seen hundreds of young children doing first communion. Where are all the kiddos going!?
As expected, the majority of Spaniards are Catholic. Most, especially the younger generation don’t regularly practice. Spain’s faith was in a downhill spiral until recently when it took a turn for the better. More and more youths began attending church and younger children started to stay. Unfortunately, this turn for the better just missed most individuals in my age range explaining the missing age gap. The number of Spanish Catholics attending mass grew by 23 percent between 2012 and 2013. Since then, church involvement has continued to rise as more and more individuals are returning to the church. In part this is due to Pope Benedict XVI careful attention to Spain, but in more recent years is due to Pope Francis’s open-mind and love for the younger generation of thinkers.
Upon asking locals in Spain, many said that once kids reach high school, much like the states they become too busy to attend church. Since Catholicism is so rooted in culture, in Spain, it doesn’t feel like an abandonment of faith. Sara, a local teenager, said that she is Catholic. When I asked her if she went to mass her response was, “very very rarely”. She is not alone in this endeavor of missing mass, yet still begin a firm believer in God. In the United States, 80 percent of millennials claim to believe in God in some form. In contrast, only 27 percent attend church services weekly. Maybe then as millennials we still need God just not church. We claim to believe in God, but don’t believe in Catholicism or the teachings of the church. Suddenly it becomes a quagmire of complex jumbled ideas when all we want is a free cookie. Desperately looking for answers, the few of us remaing sit alone in the empty pews.
Only 21 percent of the United States population identifies as Catholic. Within the millennial population, 16 percent are Catholic. Of all the children that went through communion in the U.S., 41 percent of them no longer identify as Catholic. In both Spain and the United States, the number of children that stride to the alter in their white communion outfits dwindles as they grow-up. Not all hope is lost, it’s not unheard of that as one grows older one also finds more time to devout to discovering religion. This is the hope at least for the generation of millennial Catholics.
As my time in Spain is ending, I’ve begun thinking about the journey. The list of knowledge gems is long but my biggest lesson by far has been to always trust God. Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes things go as planned, and sometimes they don’t, but there is always beauty to be found in the chaos. I would argue that while traveling a search for God is easier than a Google search. There’s not always wifi, but there’s always prayer. If you’re lucky, there’s free cookies too.