SCRIPTURE-YOUTHS Aug-28-2008 (720 words) With logo posted Aug. 21 and photos posted Aug. 28. xxxn
Catholic youths attempt to catch up to adults in Bible reading
By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the Second Vatican Council, American Catholics dusted off their family Bibles and began charting the unfamiliar territory of personal Bible reading.
But the same enthusiasm that sent adults in droves to parish Bible studies and discussion groups did not catch on with Catholic youths. In the 1990s, nearly 30 years after "Dei Verbum," the council's document on divine revelation, only 20 percent of Catholic young people in a Gallup Poll said they ever read the Bible on their own, compared to about 60 percent of youths from other Christian denominations.
Brian Singer-Towns, editor of the Catholic Youth Bible, published by St. Mary's Press in 2000, wants to see that change. For starters, he said Catholic youths need to become biblically literate.
In other words, they should be able to pick up a Bible and know how to explore it, for example, being able to find a particular book or a certain passage. He said they should also know the big picture of the Bible, such as its historical and cultural context and how certain books or passages have been interpreted by the church.
The reason other Christian youths are picking up the Bible on their own is because "their leaders are training them to do that," Singer-Towns told Catholic News Service.
"We need to do the same thing," he said, stressing the importance of students reading directly from the Bible in religion classes instead of reading biblical passages inserted into textbooks.
That's what Jan Millner, a theology teacher at St. Francis High School, an all-girls school in Sacramento, Calif., strives to do on a daily basis. She uses the Bible as much as possible, having students read from it during structured times of prayer, act out certain passages, translate the message to modern times or put the words to music.
In today's high-tech society where teens have numerous demands on their time and a variety of entertainment at the ready, the Bible could seem old-fashioned yet Millner said her students inevitably are engaged by the discussion.
And although there are electronic Bible versions or online reference materials to capture their attention, the biblical technology can only go so far. "In the end students just have to spend time with the Bible," Millner told CNS Aug. 21 between classes during the first week of school.
For its part, St. Mary's Press and a few other publishing companies have recently tried to make inroads in the Catholic youth Bible market. Along with the Catholic Youth Bible, marketed for teens, the company also offers a Bible specifically for middle-schoolers and one for college students.
Mark Hart, executive vice president for Life Teen International and author of "T3," an interactive DVD Bible-study series for teens published two years ago by Ascension Press, said today's youths "crave authenticity," which the Bible is all about.
"Teens so badly want to be engaged," he said, and as he sees it, the Bible is the best tool to speak to them because "it is so bold and it doesn't compromise."
Hart is optimistic about Catholic teens reading the Bible, based on workshops he's given across the country. He's been particularly impressed with the optional Bible studies offered early in the mornings at Catholic teen conferences that have been packed with participants.
"They're eating it up," he told CNS from Mesa, Ariz. "There is a huge groundswell of young people trying to read Scripture."
And for parishes or Catholic religion classes where the Bible has not yet caught on with teens, Hart advises youth ministers and teachers not to even attempt to teach the Bible if they are not reading it themselves.
"If you're not currently reading the Bible, start the class in six months," he advised.
Hart likened becoming familiar with the Bible to working out, where you "have to get in the rhythm and learn how to move." For starters, he suggests youth leaders and teens should at least read the Sunday Mass readings, noting that if people did this for one month prior to Mass, they would "be amazed at how Mass comes to life."
Reading these Scriptures, he added, does far more than just impact the Mass.
"It will change your life," he said.
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