In his 2003 exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, Pope John Paul II addressed at length the “de-Christianisation of vast areas of the European continent”. Citing Christ’s query as to whether, upon his return, he would find faith left on earth (Luke 18:8), the Polish saint asked: “Will he find faith in our countries, in this Europe of ancient Christian tradition? This is an open question which clearly reveals the depth and the drama of one of the most serious challenges which our churches are called to face.”

Fifteen years later, this “open question” remains. In some European countries, moreover, it is one to which no glib assurances are either possible or advisable.

This week the Benedict XVI Centre, in partnership with the Institut Catholique de Paris, launched another of its free-to-download research reports, “Europe’s Young Adults and Religion”. Our main hope is to help inform the synod of bishops this October, which will focus on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment”.

The report analyses recent (2014/16) data from the highly regarded European Social Survey to explore the religious affiliation and practice in 22 European countries of 16- to 29-year-olds – the synod’s working definition of a “young adult”.

Large-scale, nationally representative surveys are, of course, decidedly blunt tools. They do not, in themselves, give a remotely full picture of something so complex and richly textured as daily Catholic life. Nevertheless, they can tell us a great deal.

The proportion of 16- to 29-year-olds identifying as Catholic in 22 countries

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