Editorial: Links in a chain of faith

On the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jan. 12, Pope Francis baptized 32 infants and called the children “a link in a chain” of faith that parents are duty-bound to protect.

“I would just tell you this: you are the ones that transmit the Faith, the transmitters; you have a duty to pass on the Faith to these children,” the pope said to parents in the Sistine Chapel. “It’s the most beautiful legacy that you leave to them: the Faith! ... Always think of how to transmit the Faith to the children.”

Perhaps no message is more important during these troubled times for the Church than what the pope chose to emphasize to the young parents on that feast day. The days of taking for granted the fact that all young Catholic couples will baptize their children are gone. Instead, the sacrament has seen an alarming reduction in numbers in recent years in the U.S.

A report released last summer by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University shows dwindling statistics in the numbers of children being baptized in the Church. According to the report, between 1995 and 2004, “there was about one Catholic infant baptism for every four births in the U.S. … But after 2004 the pattern begins to shift with several years of more births (until the recession) and fewer Catholic infant baptisms.” Additionally, verifying the trend, “there were more first Communions celebrated nationally in 2011 than infants baptized,” the study said.

‘It’s the most beautiful legacy that you leave to them: the Faith!... Always think of
how to transmit the Faith to the children.’

The most likely reason for this trend, according to CARA, is simply that Catholics are less likely than they used to be to baptize their children. Of course, this is not overwhelmingly surprising when you consider the dwindling number of Catholic marriages — and marriages altogether. As couples continue to delay marriage or choose not to get married at all, the future of the Church in this country is in peril.

The ripple effect of not baptizing children is taking its toll on Catholic education, too. In an interview in this week’s issue (Page 5), James Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, attributes the breakdown of the family to the decrease in enrollment at Catholic schools. According to CARA, the number of students enrolled in Catholic elementary schools in the United States has dropped by more than 1 million in the last 50 years. That’s particularly worrisome when, according to Garvey, “the surest sign of whether a married adult will go to church and send their kids to parochial schools, or at least send them to church, is whether they themselves have attended parochial schools.”

To reverse this trend, Catholic education, both in schools and in parish religious education programs, must be a priority for parents. The theme for this year’s Catholic Schools Week — celebrated Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 — is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

But in order for students to arrive at those educational communities, they first must be formed within the community of their families. It’s vital that Catholic parents, as Pope Francis said, continue to pass on the Faith to their children.

And parishes must help. From the earliest moments of life, parishes should evangelize young families using materials to help them grow in the Faith. If possible, they should offer services like day care or pre-school to help families feel at home in the parish environment. And, above all, they should make the parish a welcoming community. Now, more than ever, it is essential for educators, catechists and parents to work together to develop the next generation of well-formed Catholics.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor