– How can the Catholic Church support spirituality in families?


The Catholic Church in France is facing a crisis in transmitting its faith, as highlighted by popular comedian Gad Elmaleh during one of his shows. While French Jews and Muslims openly demonstrate their religious identity, Catholics often struggle to express their affiliation. A recent study by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) revealed a decline in the Catholic population in France, attributed to the low rate of passing down the Catholic faith from one generation to the next. This article explores the challenges faced by the Catholic Church in France and examines how it can support spirituality in families.

The Decline in the Catholic Population:

The INSEE study published in March showed a significant drop in the Catholic population in France. While Catholics represented 43% of the age group of 18 to 59 a decade ago, this number has now fallen to 29%. The decline is attributed to the lack of transmission of the Catholic faith from parents to their children. Unlike Islam and Judaism, where family transmission is strong, only 67% of those raised by Catholic parents continue to identify as Catholics. Regular religious practice, such as prayer, pilgrimages, and Mass attendance, plays a crucial role in passing down the faith.

The Role of Religious Practice in Transmission:

Yann Raison du Cleuziou, a sociologist studying trends in Catholicism, observes that the successful transmission of the faith relies on two aspects: the valuing of rituals and the “totalizing” dimension of the faith that permeates all aspects of life. Families that actively engage in religious practices and create an environment where the faith is deeply integrated have a higher likelihood of passing it on to their children. On the other hand, families that delegate the transmission of faith to external structures, such as catechism classes or youth groups, have a lower rate of religious transmission.

The Influence of Catholicism on Social Life:

Unlike Islam or Judaism, Catholicism has only a minimal influence on social life in France. This lack of influence makes it easier for individuals to leave the Church without significant consequences. Pierre Bréchon, professor emeritus of political science, suggests that dropping out of religion often occurs undramatically and with indifference when children leave their parents’ home. However, some Catholic families who adopt an impermeability to other cultures can successfully pass on their faith. By carefully selecting religious socialization through Catholic schools, youth movements, and friendship circles, these families maintain a strong sense of religious identity.

The Paradox of Becoming a Minority Religion:

As Catholicism becomes a minority religion in France, it could paradoxically lead to a reconfiguration of the faith to prevent its disappearance. Sociologist Raison du Cleuziou notes that minority religions tend to intensify their practices and create a sense of “entre-soi” or exclusivity. This restructure may help the Catholic Church in France retain its identity and facilitate the transmission of faith. However, the destiny of a religion also depends on personal experiences and coherence in following the Gospel.

Challenges in Transmitting Faith:

Despite efforts to pass on the faith, many Catholic parents in France have admitted their struggles in transmitting their beliefs to their adult children. Some question whether allowing children to decide their religious interests as adults is a wise approach. They feel that they may not have provided enough guidance and education for their children to make informed choices. The figures support this concern, as only 2% of adults from non-practicing Catholic families experience a religious conversion later in life.

The Role of Family Prayer and Ownership:

Catherine, a mother of seven children, highlights two essential aspects in transmitting faith within her family. Firstly, having a family prayer after supper, although not accompanied by profound mystical experiences, cultivated gratitude and appreciation for all that is beautiful and good. Secondly, taking ownership of the faith is crucial. Rituals must be able to convey the message of love inscribed in the Catholic faith and resonate with the heart. The role of parents as transmitters of faith and figures of authority can be ambivalent. Difficulties in the parent-child relationship or perceived lack of authenticity in parents may hinder the transmission of faith.

Personal Experiences and Coherence:

Frédéric, a retired stock trader, shares his experience with his children and their varying levels of closeness to the Church. He believes that the first two children were fortunate to encounter Catholics who genuinely lived a relationship with Christ, while the last two were more exposed to Catholic education as a means of social replication for economic success. This example emphasizes that the destiny of a religion depends not only on social transmission but also on personal experiences and the coherence of living according to the Gospel.

How Can the Catholic Church Support Spirituality in Families?

The Catholic Church in France can play a vital role in supporting spirituality in families by addressing the challenges faced in transmitting faith. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Emphasize the value of religious practice: Encourage families to engage in regular religious practices such as prayer, Mass attendance, and pilgrimages. These practices create a strong foundation for faith and reinforce the sense of religious identity within families.

  2. Promote family-centered religious education: Provide resources and programs that empower parents to take an active role in religious education within their families. This can include catechetical materials, workshops, and support networks.

  3. Foster a sense of community: Create opportunities for families to connect with other Catholic families, fostering a sense of belonging and support. This can be achieved through parish events, family retreats, and social activities.

  4. Provide guidance on parenting and family dynamics: Offer resources and guidance on parenting within a Catholic context. Address common challenges faced by parents in transmitting faith, such as conflicts in parent-child relationships and concerns about authenticity.

  5. Encourage intergenerational dialogue: Facilitate conversations between different generations within the Church to foster understanding and bridge the gap between older and younger Catholics. This can help create a sense of continuity and shared experiences.

  6. Support Catholic schools and youth movements: Recognize the importance of Catholic schools and youth movements in transmitting faith. Provide resources and support to ensure these institutions continue to thrive and effectively contribute to the spiritual formation of young Catholics.

By implementing these strategies, the Catholic Church can support spirituality in families and strengthen the transmission of faith from one generation to the next.

In conclusion, the Catholic Church in France faces challenges in transmitting faith to future generations. The decline in the Catholic population and the lack of religious identity among Catholics highlight the need for intervention. By emphasizing the value of religious practice, promoting family-centered religious education, fostering a sense of community, providing guidance on parenting, encouraging intergenerational dialogue, and supporting Catholic schools and youth movements, the Church can support spirituality in families and ensure the transmission of faith. It is through these efforts that the Catholic Church can address the crisis it faces and create a stronger foundation for future generations of Catholics in France.