When I was growing up, everybody went somewhere. Our parish church, St. Stephen’s, was across the street from a Presbyterian church. The Episcopal church was farther down Kearny Avenue. The Jewish kids went to a synagogue that on my last nostalgic swing through Kearny had become an evangelical hispanic congregation.
Jerry and I decided to raise our kids without a formal religious affiliation, and sort of by default our social circle was made up of other families who were also non-affiliated, often Catholic-Jewish mixed marriages like ours. We sent the kids to private school, in part because the Rochester City Schools were so underperforming and in part because private schools focus on secular traditions that somewhat replaced religious ones in our lives.
The religions in which we were each raised — Catholicism and Judaism — lost both Jerry and me in early adulthood. Religion never even got started with our kids.
The Catholic Church seems suddenly aware that it is losing the young, and not just over the pedophilia scandal. Young people, even in traditionally majority Catholic countries like Italy, find the Catholic Church boring and out of date.
There is a youth synod in Panama the first week that I’ll be there in January; the Pope will lead the experience. I think a lot of Panamanian kids will show up and kids from all over Central America, for nostalgia reasons if nothing more, and because the South American Pope Francis is popular. But on the few occasions that I’ve gone to the parish church in Rio Hato, there aren’t a lot of young people, or men. Churchgoing is mostly a women’s thing. They all baptize their babies in Catholic rituals, at least the ones who are not Evangelical, but I’m not sure where religious observance goes after that.
The world is changing in lots of ways. Global culture will be different, in ways hard to imagine, when churchgoing is most typically a thing of the past.