The Archdiocese for Military Services invited me to a think tank on how they can better outreach to our young military personnel. It’s always an interesting question because the young folks in the military are so transient, at least at first. More interesting anecdotal evidence shows that they buck the usual “unsettled” trend that we often see in young adult life. One marine was married with children and had lived in the same house with the same job for more than 10 years.

Mass attendance is often low amongst Catholics on military bases and we all wondered why that was the case. A young marine asked the “elephant in the room question.” Simply put, “Have you ever asked them why they don’t go?”

I had to giggle because it was obvious that nobody had. I have some thoughts on what they might say. Note that these are my own hypotheses and not based on any actual data.

1) Mass times are not convenient. Most of the masses were on Sunday morning. Depending on the branch of the military that might not be the best time.

2) Sheer exhaustion: Let’s face it, the military is no walk in the park. People are tired and exhausted by the end of the week.

3) Complete indifference: Frankly, some folks are simply not interested and religion is not part of their worldview.

So needless to say, it’s an uphill climb. They’re short on chaplains and priests (like the rest of the church) and I think they have the opportunity to make a serious investment in lay ministry. What’s needed on base is a stabilizing factor. Chaplains are often “contract priests”, men who come in and simply celebrate mass and the sacraments for one day and then they leave. Someone needs to organize the pastoral needs of the bases and then devise a plan on how to serve those needs. One of their jobs will need to be to teach enlisted and officer personnel how they can share their faith with other military without being pushy or haughty and to be appropriate when they do that.

One young person also noted a lack of invitation from organizations like the Knights of Columbus to military personnel after they become more engaged in ministry on base. He claimed that lots of soldiers would be interested. Due respect to the young man, who had tons of good ideas, but I think that’s a pipe dream. How many military personnel even know what the Knights are, and once they do, how many would really want to join? No offense to the Knights, but I don’t think they’re the answer here. Engagement is a serious problem here, not joining Catholic organizations can’t be the first of many needed steps in this process. That said, once the engagement occurs, the Knights can and should become major players here.

These are huge questions that the Archdiocese is taking huge strides to explore. Archbishop Broglio was a constant presence during the proceedings, which I really appreciated and he had a lot to contribute to the conversation as well. It’s awesome to see an Archbishop take a direct and active role in something like this.

Special thanks goes to Mark Moitoza, who is the chief cook and bottlewasher for young adult ministry at the Archdiocese. He gathered a great group of people to talk about these things. I pray that the conversation continues.