How to build a strong Catholic family

COLUMBIA—Many Catholic parents don’t realize they are the primary influence in the spiritual growth of their children.

Instead, experts say, they’ve been led to believe the main responsibility for teaching the faith belongs to priests, nuns, teachers and youth leaders.

“Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth” is designed to help change that.

The program was developed by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry in response to a survey on youth and religion in the United States that discovered:

Today’s teenagers tend to follow their parents’ faith.

Highly religious teenagers do better with life’s challenges than other teens.

The Catholic Church lags behind all other Christian denominations in the number of young people fully living and practicing their faith.

Most Catholic teens are remarkably inarticulate about their faith, unable to describe what they believe or why.

Parents are the single most important influence in the development of teens’ faith.

“Parents often feel they’re in a secondary role when it comes to teaching their kids, but that’s not the case,” said Dobie Mosier, executive director of youth and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Cleveland.

“We need to focus on the gifts parents bring, their role as teachers and the challenges they face in passing on the faith,” he said. “We need to feel a sense of urgency because the status quo is not acceptable.”

Mosier spoke to youth leaders and religious education teachers Feb. 23 at St. Peter Church in Columbia as part of a two-day event that introduced “Strong Catholic Families” to the diocese. Parents met at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.

The program focuses on helping parents live their own faith to the fullest, being more involved in teaching it to their children, and overcoming challenges that threaten to undermine faith, such as busy schedules and an increasingly secular and technology-centered culture.

Young people encounter a philosophy that some researchers call benign whateverism, the idea that anything a person chooses to believe is fine.

Mosier said parents should realize the very act of raising and loving their children is a reflection of God’s love.

“Sometimes it seems as if holiness only happens in the church on Sundays, but the extraordinary God is present in ordinary life,” Mosier said. “Dinner time or reading a child a story is holy. Families are holy, and when we gather on Sunday, we’re a family of families.”

Eating meals together is one of the most effective ways to nurture faith, he said.

“Connect the eucharistic table of their home with the eucharistic table of the Lord,” Mosier said.

A family of faith

Some things parents can do to create a strong Catholic family — according to a “Family Faith” booklet published by the youth federation — include:

read and discuss Scripture as a family;

pray together outside of meal times and use simple blessings at night to commemorate special days or events in the lives of family members;

display religious art such as statues, holy images and crucifixes around the house;

make sure each person has a Bible of their own geared to their age level;

expect each family member to be involved in parish or community service, and serve as a family when possible;

make Mass, youth ministry and church events high priority on the family calendar.