The overwhelming majority of students in Catholic schools say religion is an important part of their lives and many would like to learn more about it, a new survey has shown.
The answers of 18,000 students who participated in the survey flies in the face of the common misconception that young people have overwhelmingly rejected Catholicism.
The thousands of students from Years 5, 7, 9 and 11 in systemic Catholic schools within the Sydney Archdiocese were surveyed in the 2018 Survey of Religious Attitudes and Practices about their views on religion and their practice of the faith.
It is believed to be the largest survey of its kind in the western world.
Results showed that the vast majority — about 90 per cent of students — place value on their Catholic faith, although levels of practicing the faith were greatly varied.
Less than 10 per cent of the respondents said they placed no value at all on religious faith.
A further encouragement for those who teach religious education to young people was the response of 66 per cent of students who said that they want to know more about religion.
“The survey provides valuable insight into religious beliefs and practices of the young people in our schools,” Director of Religious Education and Evangelisation at Sydney Catholic Schools, Anthony Cleary, told The Catholic Weekly.
“It shows they do certainly change as they become older, they are more questioning about the role of religion in their lives … But what’s clear is that they haven’t written religion off. They haven’t dismissed it out of hand.
“It shows the vast majority clearly do see value in religion.”
“The very bleak impression that some sociologists would try to present of young people is not evident in this survey. This survey actually shows that there is interest there, that there are lots of opportunities there.”
The survey is conducted every two years, allowing a particular cohort of students to be tracked over their school lives.
While the majority of students across all year levels said they wanted to know more about religion, it was female students in particular who expressed this desire, with 84 per cent of girls in Year 5 saying they wanted to know more.
“It shows that young people do have a sense of the transcendent,” Mr Cleary said.
“Whereas, if you read the newspapers they’re presented as godless and hedonistic and only interested in themselves.
“I think what we need to do is recognise that deep down a lot of them actually are yearning for opportunities. They want to be able to discuss the faith and that’s where we need to create a culture in our schools where young people feel comfortable talking to each other about the faith.”
Students responded that the most important influence on their lives is their family (72.5 per cent), demonstrating the importance of supporting families as a positive influence, Mr Cleary said.
The most important influence on students’ religious views was God at 42 per cent, with family second at 37 per cent.
From his own personal research into the effects of World Youth Days, Mr Cleary said young people are looking for opportunities to share faith experiences with their peers.
“We sent 10,000 to the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, a religious event. We send hundreds to every WYD and they come back on fire. I’m a firm believer in youth-to-youth evangelisation.”
While overwhelmingly positive, the survey also highlighted plenty of areas of concern, he said, such as a lack of participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the absence of a real prayer life for many young people.
“What we need to do is help young people develop a personal relationship with Jesus and to see the way their life can be transformed though that relationship.”