Francis: Poverty, rebuilding, animals & Interfaith Hero

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0314_Interfaith_Heroes.jpgTHE STORY of St. Francis and the Sultan of Egypt is retold in the book Interfaith Heroes. Click the book cover to learn more about that book.By THOMAS J. REESE, SJ

In picking the name Francis, the new pope sent his first message to the world, but what is that message? Four possibilities come to mind, and perhaps they are all true.

FIRST—A LIFE OF POVERTY: St Francis of Assisi was known for his life of poverty. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was also known and respected for refusing to live in the archbishop’s palace in Buenos Aires. Rather, he lived in a simple apartment where he cooked his own meals. He also put aside the chauffeur driven limousine and rode the bus to work. Will Pope Francis try to bring a simpler life style to the papal court? Is this a man who will be comfortable in silks and furs?

Here is a quote from him that should worry the papal court:

The cardinalate is a service is, it is not an award to be bragged about. Vanity, showing off, is an attitude that reduces spirituality to a worldly thing, which is the worst sin that could be committed in the Church…. An example I often use to illustrate the reality of vanity, is this: look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth… Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them.

SECOND—‘REBUILD MY CHURCH’: Early in his career, St. Francis heard a message from God: “Rebuild my church.” At first he thought God meant the building in the forest near where he was living. Only later did he realize that it was the institutional church, which was in disrepair, that he was to rebuild. With all the problems facing the church—sexual abuse crisis, declining membership in Europe and the Americas, and a Vatican Curia in need of reform—this name may point toward an ecclesial agenda.

THIRD—LOVE OF ANIMALS: Francis was also famous for his love of animals and nature. With the environmental catastrophe of climate change facing the world, his choice of name could point to an aggressive and prophetic stance on environmental issues. This is certainly one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century, and it would be great to have the pope be a real leader on environmental issues.

FOURTH—INTERFAITH HERO: Francis was known for his peaceful and positive attitude toward Islam. He was no crusader when his time was marked by war between Christendom and Islam. Rather he walked through the battlefield unarmed to meet with the Sultan, who was so impressed that he listened to him and sent him back unharmed. At a time when peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians are again necessary for the good of the world, he could be sending a message not only to Christians, but also to Muslims.

There is another Francis that the new pope is connected to because of his Jesuit roots: St. Francis Xavier. This Francis was known for his missionary zeal. There is much talk in the church about evangelization because of the church’s losses in Europe and the Americas. Xavier was a man who did it. And he died on an island off the coast of China, which today is seen as a field ripe for the harvest.

MORE FROM FATHER THOMAS J. REESE, S.J.

This column is used by permission from Father Thomas Reese, the author of several essential books about the structure and influence of the Roman Catholic Church. His most important book, right now, is Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,published by Harvard University Press. For decades, Father Reese has been one of the leading American experts on the Catholic church, quoted in newspaper, magazines and TV news stories. Father Reese also has organized an extensive index to Papal Transition stories, hosted by America magazine online.

Catholic Crossroads: Pentecostal & Portugese challenges

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0311_Christ_on_Corcovado_mountain_Brazil.jpgRIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL as seen from Christo Redentor, atop the mountain peak known as Corcovado.THIS WEEK, the world’s Catholic cardinals converge to elect a new pope. (Here is a convenient index to some of our recent stories about the worldwide Catholic Church.) Most headline stories in newspapers around the world are focusing on the controversies these cardinals must consider: Who will clean up the scandal-ridden Vatican bank? Who will clean up the lingering crisis of sexual abuse?

At ReadTheSpirit, we highlight stories that major newspapers and magazines are not covering.
TODAY, we are pleased to share this latest column by longtime religion newswriter David Briggs.

Catholic Church at a Crossroads:
Key questions may be in Portugese

BY DAVID BRIGGS

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0311_Rio_De_Janeiro_favelas_slums.jpgRIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL as seen from the Favelas, or makeshift slums. Photos today in public domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.SUPERSTAR PERSONALITIES are no small part of the supernova of Christian growth in the past century: the Pentecostal and charismatic renewal movements. In the U.S., think of Oral Roberts or Bishop T.D. Jakes. But the truth is, some of the most rapidly growing Pentecostal movements speak Portugese, Spanish and various African or Asian languages.

This month, many Catholics who experienced the megastar papacy of John Paul II are hopeful that the church leaders meeting to select a successor to Benedict XVI can find an evangelist-in-chief to compete in the global marketplace. One way to ignite international interest in the billion-member institution would be to choose someone from Latin America or Africa, where more than half of the world’s Catholics now reside. This, some observers say, would not only be a significant affirmation of the global nature of the church, but could help stem defections to Pentecostal congregations in those southern regions.

But what may matter more than the nationality of the next pope, according to some scholars, is his commitment to allowing the growth of lay leadership and culturally sensitive worship that is key to the success of the Pentecostal movement.

“A new pope would do well to officially sanction some of this, rather than resist it,” said Donald Miller, the series editor of Global Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity and the executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California.

CHRISTIANITY IN A DYNAMIC
GLOBAL MARKETPLACE

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement emphasizes enthusiastic worship and the ability of individuals to discern God’s will through a personal connection with the Holy Spirit. The connection can manifest itself in practices such as healing prayer. The modern movement began humbly with the teachings of Charles Fox Parham in Topeka, Kansas, in the beginning of the 20th century, followed by the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles.

In the past century, Pentecostal-charismatic movements grew at nearly four times the rate of both Christianity and the global population, expanding from 1.2 million in 1910 to 584 million in 2010, according to the World Christian Database.

The movements are multifaceted, ranging from traditional Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel to independent churches to charismatic movements within older denominations, including the Catholic Church. There were an estimated 177 million Catholic charismatics in 2010, according to the World Christian Database.

To be sure, the Catholic Church, despite losses in much of Europe, is still experiencing dramatic global growth, particularly in Latin America and Africa. From 1990 to 2000, the Catholic Church added an average of nearly 13 million members a year, and by some estimates it is expected to grow to more than 1.5 billion members by the middle of the century, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. However, this is a slower rate than the growth of renewalist movements, which are expected by some to go from a quarter to a third of the world’s Christian population as the Catholic Church holds on to about half of Christianity.

In Brazil, which has the world’s largest Catholic population, thousands of Catholics move into evangelical Protestant churches every week, said Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.

THE CATHOLIC SOUTH:
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Catholics have considerable strengths—from a strong tradition and presence in many nations to well-organized networks of schools, hospitals and seminaries. And the church in Latin America and Africa has been in many ways supportive of charismatic practices within worship. But a hierarchical church with a priest shortage also faces significant challenges competing with Pentecostal-charismatic movements led by local leaders who provide an environment that is sometimes compared to a large extended family.

Pentecostalism can bring order, stability and hope, particularly for individuals living in poverty or who are part of an urban migration cut off from their rural roots, Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori note in their book Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. The emphasis on the value of personal spiritual experiences and what generally are the greater opportunities to serve than in a Catholic church also develop commitment and a sense of self-worth. 

The next Catholic pope may want to consider the importance of increasingly legitimizing the role of all people in the congregation, promoting practices such as healing prayer and integrating culturally meaningful music and forms of worship within congregations, scholars say.

The training of local Catholics is critical both to evangelization and to address concerns that worship not veer from church teaching into areas such as advocating a prosperity gospel equating faith with health and wealth, said Johnson at the Global Christianity center. The Catholic Church’s “hope of spreading is through the development of lay leadership,” he said.

Miller agrees. “There’s no way the ratio of priests to people can ever start to accommodate the needs of people” in the same way house fellowships and cell churches are able to in their intimate settings, he said. The religious community needs to be more rooted in the actual experiences of the people, “which is of course the major insight of Pentecostalism,” Miller added.

Of course, it also would not hurt to have a pope from the Southern Hemisphere, particularly if that individual could combine the compelling spirituality of Pope John Paul II with the special inspiration he brought to many from his native Poland and throughout Eastern Europe.

Many Latin American Catholics consider themselves “the soul of Catholicism,” and electing a pope from the region would be seen as “a very powerful symbolic statement that they’re accepted and they’re recognized,” said Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, an associate professor of Latino church studies at Azusa Pacific University.

In a world with tens of thousands of Christian denominations, the media advantages of having one spiritual leader for half of the Christians on the globe are enormous. No one gets more face time on any media.

After nearly eight years of what many observers have characterized as a “caretaker” papacy, the choice the cardinals make this month will have far-reaching consequences for Christianity’s most dynamic landscape—the global South.

DAVID BRIGGS has been reporting on religion in America for most of his career as a journalist, including a number of years as the national religion correspondent for Associated Press. Currently, he writes for The Huffington Post as well as the Ahead of the Trend column for the Association of Religion Data Archives. This column is reposted from the Trend column with permission.

MORE STORIES ABOUT THIS CATHOLIC MOMENT

FATHER THOMAS REESE on the Next Pope: Who will elect the next pope? Europeans form the majority of the voting cardinals. AND, 5 Myths of Picking a Pope: Think you know what’s likely? Think again.

CATHERINE WOLFF on Catholic Heroes: Her new book is Not Less Than Everything, gathering two dozen talented writers to explore two dozen amazing Catholic lives.

TERRY GALAGHER on Catholic Critics: As Catholics, should we stay? A week-long series of OurValues columns exploring the push-and-pull felt by millions of American Catholics.

GREG TOBIN on Pope John XXIII: The inspiring story of how an Italian farm boy rose to surprise the world in his brief reign as pontiff.

Who will fill Vatican void? 5 Myths about Picking a Pope

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-St_Peters_Basilica_at_the_Vatican_2013.jpg

MONDAY MARCH 4: The first General Congregation of the College of Cardinals will convene on the morning of Monday, March 4th, 2013. That gathering will organize the papal conclave to elect a new pope. The Wikipedia editorial team is doing a great job of posting daily updates on the process—providing more details than you will find in most U.S. newspapers or magazines. The leading American news analyst on the papal transition, journalist and author Thomas Reese, also continues to cover the transition …

By FATHER THOMAS REESE, S.J.

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-St_Peters_Square_by_Juan_Rubiano_via_Wikimedia.jpgPHOTOS OF THE VATICAN: At top is the interior of St. Peter’s basilica; below is St. Peter’s Square at night. Bottom photo by Juan Rubiano. Both released in public domain via Wikimedia Commons.Already, 115 cardinals from around the globe have gathered at the Vatican. Within a matter of days, they will move into the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, invoke the Holy Spirit and elect a pope to replace Benedict XVI. Behind closed doors, cut off from the outside world, they will choose a leader who will have an impact on not only the billion-member Catholic Church but the entire planet.

The world is watching—but there are lots of myths about how the cardinals will make their choice.

MYTH 1: BENEDICT’S INFLUENCE

THE MISCONCEPTION: Pope Benedict resigned, rather than remain in office until death, so he could influence the election.

In Washington D.C., where I’m based, we tend to be suspicious of the explanations politicians give for anything, but in the case of the pope’s resignation, the explanation—his deteriorating health—appears to be accurate. Benedict recognizes that he is no longer up to the job, and he should be honored for giving up power and position for the good of the church. He has moved out of Rome to avoid the appearance of undue influence. “He will not interfere in any way,” a Vatican spokesman said.

So how will the cardinals decide? The cardinals will look for someone who agrees with their values and vision for the church. Each elector also want someone with whom he will have a good relationship. Finally, since all politics is local, each cardinal wants someone who will be well received in his country. Americans want someone who understands the sex abuse crisis; Nigerians want someone who understands Islam.

The cardinals realize that this election will be one of the most important things they ever do. One pope, Felix IV (526-30), tried to influence the selection of his replacement; the Roman Senate objected and passed an edict forbidding any discussion of a pope’s successor during his lifetime.

Benedict has appointed 57 percent of the cardinal electors (John Paul II named the rest), so they will most likely elect someone with similar views. In American terms, that means someone to the right of Newt Gingrich on social issues and to the left of Nancy Pelosi on economic issues.

MYTH 2: HOPE IN SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE?

THE MISCONCEPTION: The next pope is likely to be African or Latin American.

Catholicism has been growing dramatically in the developing world—and global news coverage of the transition has aired interviews with Africans and Latin Americans expressing high hopes. But, with 52 percent of the cardinals coming from Europe, chances are the next pope will be European.

The Italians have the largest bloc of votes, almost one-fourth of the 116 electors. John Paul II, who was Polish, was elected because the Italian cardinals were divided. Current evidence, including documents leaked from the Vatican, indicates that the Italian cardinals are again split. A non-Italian is again possible.

Those who support a pope from Africa argue that the vibrant and growing African church is Catholicism’s future. Others say that the church in Africa is doing fine and that Catholics need a leader who can save the church in the developed world. In the United States, about one out of three people raised Catholic has left the church. The church in Europe has been in trouble since the 19th century. Today, more people in Paris go to mosques on Friday than go to Mass on Sunday.

Both John Paul and Benedict railed against secularism and relativism in Europe but were unable to turn the tide. If there is a cardinal who can turn the church around in Europe and the United States, he deserves the job.

MYTH 3: A BRILLIANT THEOLOGIAN?

THE MISCONCEPTION: The cardinals will elect a brilliant theologian like John Paul and Benedict.

At the past two conclaves, the cardinals elected the smartest man in the room. Now, it may be time to choose a man who will listen to all the other smart people in the church.

The problem with most academics and intellectuals, especially philosophers and theologians, is that they have already made up their minds on important issues and rarely change them. It might be time for a skilled diplomat who has experience in negotiating and building consensus, useful skills for responding to the priest shortage, declining church attendance and internal divisions.

Both John Paul and Benedict got into trouble because they were surrounded by people who thought the popes were the smartest men in the world. Such people are reluctant to challenge their bosses. For example, in 2006 Benedict gave an address that included a quote from a Byzantine emperor denigrating Islam. If an expert on Islam had read the text beforehand, he could have warned that there would be a negative reaction from the Arab street.

MYTH 4: NO SURPRISES

THE MISCONCEPTION: Don’t expect big surprises to come out of the 2013 conclave.

In the new papacy, there will probably be more continuity than radical change. Don’t expect female priests next month. But the Holy Spirit can always surprise us, as it did with the 1958 election of John XXIII, whom the cardinals thought would be a “do nothing” pope; instead, he convened the Second Vatican Council, which transformed modern Catholicism. Everyone was also surprised by the 1978 election of John Paul II, the first non-Italian in centuries.

While the cardinals will be loyal to the pope, the new pontiff, once elected, has no one from whom to take his cues. He has to think, consult and pray before each big decision. Where that will lead him is anyone’s guess.

MYTH 5: IT DOESN’T MATTER

THE MISCONCEPTION: It doesn’t matter who is elected pope; nobody listens to him.

While the pope can no longer command absolute obedience among the faithful, he is still the leader of an organization with more than 1 billion members. What he says and does matters, whether it is regarding the Middle East, AIDS, climate change or many other issues that touch not only Catholics but everyone.

The most important challenge for the pope and the church is to figure out how to preach the Gospel in a way that is understandable and attractive to people of the 21st century, especially young people, who can be turned off by religion. Benedict got it right when he said Christianity should not be presented as a series of “no’s” but as a “yes” to Jesus and his message of love, life, justice, peace and community. If the new pope does this, he could revitalize the church. He needs to use all the modern means of communication, even Twitter, to get his message across.

In preaching the Gospel, the church needs to imitate, not just quote, great theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Both took the best thinking of their times—for Augustine it was Neoplatonism, for Thomas it was the writings of Aristotle—and used it to explain Christianity.

MORE FROM FATHER THOMAS J. REESE, S.J.

This column is used by permission from Father Thomas Reese, who originally posted a version of this piece in the Opinions section of the Washington Post. Reese is the author of several essential books about the structure and influence of the Roman Catholic Church. His most important book, right now, is Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,published by Harvard University Press. For decades, Father Reese has been one of the leading American experts on the Catholic church, quoted in newspaper, magazines and TV news stories. Father Reese also has organized an extensive index to Papal Transition stories, hosted by America magazine online.

MORE STORIES ABOUT THIS CATHOLIC MOMENT

DAVID BRIGGS on Catholic Growth: Is the Catholic Church fading in America? No! It’s booming and church leaders need to plan for that growth.

CATHERINE WOLFF on Catholic Heroes: Her new book is Not Less Than Everything, gathering two dozen talented writers to explore two dozen amazing Catholic lives.

TERRY GALAGHER on Catholic Critics: As Catholics, should we stay? A week-long series of OurValues columns exploring the push-and-pull felt by millions of American Catholics.

GREG TOBIN on Pope John XXIII: The inspiring story of how an Italian farm boy rose to surprise the world in his brief reign as pontiff.

Rediscover John XXIII, a Pope who stunned the world!

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-The_Good_Pope_by_Greg_Tobin_cover_with_interview.jpgCLICK THE BOOK COVER to visit its Amazon page.MORE THAN 1 BILLION CATHOLICS around the world are wondering: Can a new pope revive our deeply troubled Church? Millions of those Catholics also wonder: Is it possible that another pope could “throw open the windows of the Church”? That’s a reference to Pope John XXIII, the pope who stunned the world by opening the Second Vatican Council in 1962—the historic global gathering of Catholic leaders that finally set the Mass in common languages, moved altars forward to make parishioners feel that they were a part of the Mass, changed countless other church structures and, most importantly, ushered in the modern era of interfaith relations. John did not live to see the end of the three-year process he set in motion. Yet his legacy continued! In the Second Vatican Council’s final days (led then by Pope Paul VI), the Council overwhelmingly approved Nostra Aetate, the declaration ending two millennia of Catholic condemnation of Jews (and also opened the windows to new relations with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others). Peacemakers and interfaith volunteers around the world look to John XXIII as an unlikely hero who surprised Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Greg Tobin about his new book, The Good Pope; The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church—The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II.

UPDATE IN FALL 2013: Tobin’s book now is also available in a less-expensive trade-paperback edition.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH GREG TOBIN ON POPE JOHN XXIII

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0218_Greg_Tobin_biographer_of_John_XXIII.jpgGreg Tobin. Photo courtesy of HarperOne.DAVID: I really enjoyed this book and I hope readers will buy it—because this is a very readable introduction to John XXIII and an era that changed the religious world. You tell the story well, both for people like me who remember the era—and for those who are discovering it for the first time. Why did you think it was important to write a new book about this pope, now?

GREG: I’m glad you had this reaction to my book. That is what I’m hoping readers will find. Why did I write it? The challenge is that—for most people alive today—John XXIII is a distant memory, if people are aware of him at all. Pope John Paul II eclipsed all the popes who preceded him for the vast majority of people around the world. This summer, it’ll be 50 years since John XXIII died. I think it’s important for the world to take a fresh look at this truly amazing figure.

He is responsible for the most significant religious event of the 20th century—the Second Vatican Council, or many people call it Vatican II. In the book, I also explore the remarkable man Angelo Roncalli who became John XXIII. He was a man of great holiness, a truly and genuinely humble spiritual person who suddenly was catapulted into this position of worldwide prominence.

The main thing readers will discover is: He surprised the world! His election was a surprise and it was a surprise that he convened the Council. This coincided with other revolutions in global culture at that time. I try to show readers that it also was a surprise how, through it all, he could remain this farm boy from northern Italy.

He had an enormous influence in his very short period of time on the world stage. His work influenced not only major religious issues, but also world peace and our understanding of mass communication in relation to faith. He became a unique celebrity—such a celebrity that people from John F. Kennedy to Charles de Gaulle wanted to have their photos taken with him.

SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL:
20th CENTURY’S MOST SIGNIFICANT RELIGIOUS EVENT?

DAVID: Your claim about the Second Vatican Council being the most significant religious event of the 20th century begs questions: What about the rise of Pentecostalism from the Azusa Street Revival in 1906? What about the Scopes Trial in 1925 and the unfolding battle between science and religion? And, many historians of religion now credit the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 as the birth of a new kind of lay-led, nondenominational religious movement. Many claim that the century’s major genocides—Armenians and then the Holocaust—were religious milestones. Or, what about the role of religion in the end of Communism? Or, the resurgence of Islam as a political force?

This was a tumultuous century in terms of religion. So, tell us more about your rather expansive claim about the Second Vatican Council?

GREG: First, you’ve set the context correctly in those questions. Here’s why I say that the Second Vatican Council ranks at the top of these historical milestones in terms of religion. At the time of John XXIII, the church was approaching the ripe old age of 2,000 years. Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit works—and will continue to work—through human history and through the life of the Church. But the Church had not seen this kind of large-scale change before. The Council also matters because of the massive, global scale of this church—more than a billion people. It’s the largest organized religious body in the world.

When the Council wrought its changes, this had an impact on lives all around the planet, changing lives pretty much for all time to come. In the Mass, people started worshipping God in their own languages for the first time. Some of these changes the Council wrought were in response to horrors of the 20th Century like the Holocaust. The world’s biggest Church came out of that period of the Council with new teachings, a new way of expressing itself both around the world and in people’s daily lives at Mass, and new relationships with the world’s other major religious bodies, especially Jews but also other non-Christians as well.

VATICAN II: A NEW ERA OF INTERFAITH RELATIONSHIPS

DAVID: I’m sure a lot of people will continue to debate the claim of “most important” in ranking 20th century religious events. But I do understand your argument and I certainly would agree that Vatican II was one of the most important milestones in religious history. No question about that.

The relationship of Christianity toward non-Christians changed in the 1960s at the Council. Even though Pope John Paul II was accused of trying to roll back reforms of the Council, one thing John Paul continued to emphasize was this friendly  new attitude toward other world religions. Even nearing the end of his life, as he approached the year 2000, he wrote an impassioned letter to the world in which he encouraged Christian leaders to move even faster on improving relationships with non-Catholics.

GREG: Yes, I agree, and it excites me to see that you are emphasizing this point in relation to the Council and my book. Something happened from the heart of the Second Vatican Council that was radical. It was truly revolutionary. It was a very positive change in the world—the beginning of a brand new era of teachings and interfaith work that we had never seen before in Christianity.

Another way to look at this is to remember that, for centuries, the Catholic Church had been in defense mode. Few people even remember that there was a Vatican I, a First Vatican Council, in 1869-70 that was convened to talk about the church and the world. That Council also looked at the internal structures of the church, but the only thing of significance that came out of Vatican I was this controversial new definition of “papal infallibility.” So, the church remained in an even stronger defense mode.

At Vatican II, we saw no condemnations of heresy. Instead, there was a positive, forward-looking, outward-looking, unified voice that runs through all the documents that were issued. The actual reforms reflected this new spirit. What’s interesting is that, as the Second Vatican Council opened, the early ideas for declarations on working with other religious bodies got stalled along the way. But those ideas were resurrected before the Council ended and Pope Paul VI himself supported these ideas. He encouraged the Council not to give up on them, including the declarations on opening new relationships with non-Christian religions. Nostra Aetate came at the very end, in 1965, as the last major act of the Council.

WILL THE SPIRIT OF JOHN XXIII RESURFACE?

DAVID: The obvious question is—Will the spirit of John XXIII resurface? Could it resurface, given the kind of traditionalist bishops that John Paul and Benedict spent decades placing in high positions? One possibility is a revival of his memory around canonization. He was beatified by John Paul II in 2000, so he’s on his way toward official sainthood.

GREG: It’s impossible to predict when his canonization might occur, but I do think it will come. I would not say it is inevitable, but I do think it’s likely. John XXIII inspires many people around the world to this day. He embodied holiness in a humble, human, accessible way that I can’t recall seeing in anyone else at that level of church leadership. That is something that continues to intrigue and attract so many—leading people to learn more about this remarkable man.

DAVID: Thank you for talking with us!

OTHER CATHOLIC VOICES ON JOHN XXIII

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-Not_Less_Than_Everything_Catholic_Writers_on_Saints.JPG.jpgALSO NEW FROM HarperOne:
Catherine Wolff has pulled together an inspiring collection of stories about real-life Catholic heroes who threw themselves completely into a life of faith—despite tragedy and sometimes in the face of great danger. Called Not Less than Everything, ReadTheSpirit also is reviewing and recommending that book today. In her Introduction, Wolff credits John XXIII as one of her own inspirations. She writes about growing up in “the time of Vatican II, the great council called by Pope John XXIII to throw open the windows of the Church, to read the signs of the times, in effect to come to terms with modernity. There was a tangible sense of hope that things were changing—the Church that seemed increasingly rigid and authoritarian even to faithful Catholics was reaching out to us and to the wider world. That optimism sustained us through many changes both in the Church and in society.”

MORE STORIES ABOUT THIS CATHOLIC MOMENT

FATHER THOMAS REESE on the Next Pope: Who will elect the next pope? Europeans form the majority of the voting cardinals.

DAVID BRIGGS on Catholic Growth: Is the Catholic Church fading in America? No! It’s booming and church leaders need to plan for that growth.

CATHERINE WOLFF on Catholic Heroes: Her new book is Not Less Than Everything, gathering two dozen talented writers to explore two dozen amazing Catholic lives.

TERRY GALAGHER on Catholic Critics: American Catholics wonder: Should we stay? A week-long series of OurValues columns exploring the push-and-pull felt by millions of American Catholics.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Catholic Americans: Church of immigrants is growing

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0218_First_Lady_Michelle_Obama_at_Cinco_de_Mayo_in_DC.jpgFACES OF THE EMERGING AMERICAN CATHOLIC CHURCH: An ongoing infusion of Hispanic-American Catholics is expanding the church nationwide. In this White House Photo, First Lady Michelle Obama attends a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the Latin-American Montessori Bilingual Charter School in Washington D.C. (Photo by Samantha Appleton, released for public use.)

By DAVID BRIGGS

ONLY ONE U.S. religious group—propelled in part by an enthusiastic group of young followers—is expected to grow to 100 million adherents by the middle of this century.

Listening to critics of the Church focus on generational shifts that include declining Mass attendance and doctrinal commitment among white Catholics—one might think the Catholic Church is slowly sinking in the U.S. religious landscape.

So which is it for the nation’s largest religious group: Growth or decline?

The answer is some of both in a church that, as it has through much of its history, reflects the changing face of America, researchers reported at the recent joint meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association.

There are problems, including a dramatic loss of support among white women and a culture that is increasingly more amenable to personal decision making than claims of eternal truths.

But there also are substantial reasons for optimism.

In 1950, nearly half of Catholics could be found in the Northeast. Today, spread out nearly evenly across the country, they continue to grow along with the U.S. population in the South and West. And, unlike the GOP, the Catholic Church is receiving a welcome infusion of active, dedicated members from the growing Hispanic population.

While some analysts focus on the loss of white faces in the pews, many researchers portray a more complex picture of an institution that retains enduring, if evolving, strengths among all its members heading into the future

“Whatever its problems,” Baylor University historian J. Gordon Melton said in an interview during the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, “the Catholic Church is the strongest … religious entity in the country.”

Catholic Church in the U.S.: Breaking the 100 million barrier?

The Religious Congregations & Membership Study, using self-reported data from congregations, found there were about 59 million active members of Catholic churches in 2010, a drop of 5 percent from its 2000 study.

But many other surveys indicate a pattern of steady growth as the Catholic Church over several generations has attracted about a quarter of a rapidly growing U.S. population.

In 1948, 22 percent of Americans in Gallup Polls said their religious preference was Catholic; in 2011, 23 percent reported being Catholic. The Pew Forum’s American Religious Landscape Survey found 24 percent of Americans identify themselves as Catholic. Twenty-five percent of respondents to the 1978 General Social Survey identified themselves as Catholic. In the 2010 General Social Survey, 23 percent said their religious preference was Catholic.

The official count in the U.S. Catholic Directory reports the U.S. Catholic population rose from 45.6 million in 1965 to 66.3 million in 2012. The number of people self-identifying as Catholics in surveys is 78.2 million, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

Taking into account U.S. Census projections and the historical pattern of Catholics representing about a quarter of the U.S. population, one mid-range estimate is that the Catholic population could grow to close to 110 million by the middle of the century, according to CARA researcher Mark Gray.

That does not mean the church is not facing significant challenges.

Shifts in Catholic Parishes: Who is staying away?

There have always been generational differences in religion, with older persons generally being the most religious and many young adults drifting away from active participation before returning as they get married and have children.

But these differences have grown dramatically among recent generations. For example, 54 percent of pre-Vatican II Catholics, those born in 1940 or before who came of age before the dramatic changes in the church, attend Mass weekly, compared to 23 percent of millennial Catholics, those born from 1979 to 1987.

If the pews in your local parish seem emptier, it is in part because that older generation, which represented 31 percent of Catholics in 1987, makes up only about 10 percent of Catholics today.

Other areas of concern for the church include dramatic declines among non-Hispanic women and fewer people holding on to central Catholic teachings, CARA senior researcher Mary Gautier and University of New Hampshire sociologist Michele Dillon reported at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion meeting. They used data from the American Catholic Laity Project, a national survey taken every six years since 1987.

In 1987, more than half of Catholic women reported attending Catholic Mass weekly, compared to 38 percent of men. By 2011, the gender gap was gone. And, for the first time in the 2011 survey, women were less likely than men to say the Catholic Church was among the most important parts of their lives.

Catholics also are less likely to hold on to key theological claims.

For example, nearly a third of the Catholics surveyed, including 15 percent of highly committed church members, said one could be a good Catholic without believing Jesus rose from the dead.

In a culture that exalts personal autonomy, many Catholics are increasingly comfortable making their own decisions on issues from same-sex marriage to the need to attend Mass regularly, researchers indicated.

When someone like New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan talks of affirming the “authentic teaching” of the church, “I think that, most Catholics, when they hear that, are saying … ‘Where are you coming from?’” Dillon said.

This ‘Church of Immigrants’ Also Has a Strong Identity

Yet the “church of immigrants,” as voices as diverse as Catholic Worker movement leader Dorothy Day and Dolan refer to the church, also finds much promise in its future, starting with the boost from the nation’s growing Hispanic population.

Those active Catholics from the pre-Vatican II generation may be fading from the scene, but a new generation of active Hispanic Catholics are coming up behind them. Today, only 2 percent of pre-Vatican II Catholics are Hispanic, while more than four in ten young adult Catholics are Hispanic.

And by nearly every standard, from Mass attendance to private devotions to belief in core theological teachings, Hispanic Catholics are more highly committed than non-Hispanic Catholics. Among millennial followers, Hispanic Catholics are nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic Catholics to view devotions such as the rosary as very important to their Catholic identity.

A related demographic trend supporting growth is the church’s spread from its historic base in the Northeast and Midwest to all areas of the U.S. In the mid-20th Century, 46 percent of Catholics were in the Northeast, and less than a quarter of Catholics lived in the South and West. In 2010, half of American Catholics lived in the South and West, Gautier reported.

From 2000 to 2010, the Catholic Church experienced the largest gains among Christian groups in 11 states, including Georgia, Nevada and Oregon, the Religious Congregations & Membership Study said.

But it is not all about demography. The Catholic Church continues to do relatively well in holding on to its own in an age when the number of Americans with no religious affiliation is growing.

More than two-thirds of Americans raised as Catholic remain Catholics as adults, a higher percentage than most Christian groups, according to an analysis of data from the Pew religious landscape survey by CARA’s Gray.

And for all the issues many Catholics have with the church hierarchy, including anger over the handling of clergy sexual abuse of minors, most are committed to staying, according to the 2011 American Catholic Laity Project survey.

Nearly nine in 10 Catholics said they were unlikely to leave the Catholic Church and at least three in four said the church is among the most important parts of their life and that it is important that younger generations of their family grow up Catholic.

No one can predict the future. But it may be a mistake to underestimate the Catholic Church.

Amid powerful and sometimes violent anti-Catholic prejudice directed largely against waves of European immigrants, the Catholic Church became the largest religious group in America in the mid-19th century.

“And they’ve been number one ever since,” Melton said.

Expect the church to hold on to that ranking, particularly if it is able to continue to provide a spiritual home for the latest generation of immigrants overcoming hostility to find their place in the American dream.

DAVID BRIGGS has been reporting on religion in America for most of his career as a journalist, including a number of years as the national religion correspondent for Associated Press. Currently, he writes for The Huffington Post as well as the Ahead of the Trend column for the Association of Religion Data Archives. This column is reposted from the Trend column with permission.

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Who elects a new pope? 117 cardinals, mostly European

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0218_Thomas_Reese_Inside_the_Vatican.JPG.jpgCLICK THE COVER to visit the book’s page in Amazon.By THOMAS J. REESE, S.J.

THERE ARE CURRENTLY 118 cardinals under the age of 80, but Cardinal Lubomyr Husar turns 80 on February 26, two days before Pope Benedict’s resignation goes into effect. As a result, he will not be able to attend the conclave. If the pope were resigning two days earlier Husar would be able to attend the conclave.

Sixty-seven of the 117 cardinals in the conclave will have been appointed by Pope Benedict, the rest by John Paul II. Their average age is 72. Over half (52%) are from Europe, with 24% from Italy.  About a third of the cardinals are from the developing world, with Latin America getting almost half that (16%). Africa, Asia and the U.S. each get 11 electors. About 35% of the cardinals work in Rome. 

Popes tend to make only minor adjustments in the geographical distribution of cardinals, but since the total number of cardinals is small, a couple of cardinals here or there make a difference. John Paul increased the number of Eastern European cardinals and decreased the number of Italian cardinals. Benedict has increased the percentage of Italian cardinals and curial cardinals in the conclave and reduced the percentage of cardinals from the third world.

Cardinal Husar is not the only one to be caught by the 80-year rule. Cardinal Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, is supposed to preside over the conclave but he is too old to attend. He will be able to preside over the pre-conclave general congregations between the resignation and the conclave. Normally, the sub-dean would take his place at the conclave, but he (Cardinal Roger Marie Élie Etchegaray) is also over 80. This leaves it to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the most senior member of the college of cardinals to do the work of the dean at the conclave. Note he will not be the oldest in the conclave, that is Cardinal Walter Kasper. Seniority in the college of cardinals is based on rank (cardinal bishops outrank cardinal priests and cardinal deacons) and date of incorporation into the college of cardinals.

The cardinal dean asks whoever is elected pope, “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?” Since Cardinal Ratzinger was the dean, he was asked by the sub-dean.

It is too bad Cardinal Husar will not be able to attend because I always thought he would make a wonderful pope with a colorful personal history. The only problem with him becoming pope is that he is not a Latin Catholic but an Ukrainian Catholic. Since Rome is a Latin diocese, this might be a problem. By the way, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has married priests but not married bishops.

Cardinal Husar was born in Lviv, Ukraine but fled with his parents in 1944 and ended up in the U.S. in 1949, where he became an American citizen. He attended Fordham University and the Catholic University of America. After being ordained a priest for Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford in 1958, he was pastor of a church in Kerhonkson, NY, until 1969 when he went to Rome to get a doctorate in theology. In 1977, he was ordained a bishop without the approval of the pope by Archbishop Josyf Slipyi in Castel Gandolfo of all places! He kept a low profile for many years, but was so highly respected by the other Ukrainian bishops that they elected him as exarch of Kiev and Vyshhorod in 1995. His election was approved by the pope. He gave up his U.S. citizenship when he returned to Ukraine. In 2001, the Ukrainian Synod elected him Major Archbishop of Lviv and he was made a cardinal the same year.

MORE FROM FATHER THOMAS J. REESE, S.J.

This column is used by permission from Father Thomas Reese, the author of several essential books about the structure and influence of the Roman Catholic Church. His most important book, right now, is Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,published by Harvard University Press. For decades, Father Reese has been one of the leading American experts on the Catholic church, quoted in newspaper, magazines and TV news stories. Father Reese also has organized an extensive index to Papal Transition stories, hosted by America magazine online.

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Celebrate Catholic heroes in ‘Not Less than Everything’

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0219_Not_Less_Than_Everything_Catholic_Writers_on_Saints.jpgCLICK THE COVER to visit the book’s Amazon page.THE INTRODUCTION to Not Less Than Everything reads like it was ripped from recent Vatican headlines about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in the midst of deep troubles at the core of the Roman Catholic Church. This book’s editor and all-around ring leader, Catherine Wolff, is well aware of those troubles. In fact, she was moved by the dysfunction at the core of her beloved billion-member Church to organize this series of 26 fascinating profiles, subtitled: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero. Collectively, this is more than a series of inspiring mini-biographies. This book is an effort to revive our appreciation of another source of authority in worldwide Christendom—something that Catholics and Protestants alike call “the communion of saints.” If our official religious leaders have led us astray, as Wolff argues, then it’s our fault for giving those elected officials too much authority in the first place.

These stories are not only uplifting—they are challenging. You’ll enjoy some of the profiles; others you’ll want to read twice, perhaps arguing with both the writer and the subject of the profile. If that sounds like your kind of book, then grab a copy now. Imagine discussing this book in your small group or Sunday school class. No shortage of spirited discussion here!

T.S. Eliot’s Warning of the Ultimate Cost: ‘Everything’

The title of the book comes from the end of poet T.S. Eliot’s spiritual tour de force, Four Quartets, in which Eliot peered deep into the nature of faith and fear, life and death, hope and doubt. Eliot wrote this huge cycle of poems at an earlier, historic moment of despair—the midst of World War II and the fire bombing of Great Britain by Nazi planes. Eliot wrote his final poem in the cycle “in the uncertain hour before the morning,” hoping that the world was on the verge of “the ending of interminable night.” Eliot kept asking: How can anyone who cares about humanity keep going? His answer was as long and complex as his 50 pages of poetry. But it involves making a total personal commitment to life. Or, as Eliot puts it—a commitment “costing not less than everything.” That’s a steep cost!

An obscure reference for the title of a new book? Perhaps. Yet, many of us are thinking of Eliot at this point of transition in Christianity. In Time Magazine, journalist and historian Jon Meacham published his post-mortem essay on Benedict’s resignation—and the road ahead—by citing Eliot, as well. The theme Meacham drew from the Quartets is the circular nature of life through seasons of birth, death and rebirth. “For T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets, the way forward is the way back,” Meacham writes. Perhaps Wolff’s choice of Eliot for her front cover was prophetic in these times.

REDISCOVERING ‘THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS’

In her introduction, Wolff explains that millions of grassroots Catholics are discouraged when bishops and Vatican officials claim that their flawed and limited view of the Church is the sum total of the Christian faith. In fact, many Catholics “yearn for other spiritual leaders,” she writes. If that is the case, she argues, we need a new way back into the faith: “Where better to look than the communion of saints? The Catholic cosmos is crowded not only by those present but also by those who have gone before. As Saint Augustine said, it should not seem a small thing to us that we are members of the same body as these. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson … writes that ‘their adventure of faith opens a way for us,’ that we together form ‘an ongoing river of companions seeking God.’”

This new collection includes not only some classic saints canonized by the Vatican—such as the 16th-century Ignatius of Loyola and the 15th century Joan of Arc—but also some surprises.

Dorothy Day, the tireless peace activist who devoted her life to the poor (and who also is profiled in Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers), is covered in Wolff’s new collection by journalist Patrick Jordan. He was Day’s associate in the Catholic Worker movement and Jordan’s 10 pages in this new book vividly capture Day’s larger-than-life spirit. Jordan jokes that her personality was so potent that an encounter with Day could feel like being hit by a Mack truck! Talk about throwing “Everything” into one’s life!

SHORT, TROUBLED (& INSPIRING) LIFE OF GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS

This book certainly is not Chicken Soup for the Catholic Soul! The Dorothy Day profile is occasionally amusing and, overall, is a moving story about the quirky activist. But other profiles in this book show us tortured souls, caught in impossible situations, nevertheless throwing themselves completely into their lives of faith. My favorite chapter in the book, one that I read more than once, is Colm Toibin’s 16-page profile of the 19th-century Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. While Hopkins certainly isn’t a household name, his star definitely is rising these days. Richard Rohr just named his latest book—a book that Rohr calls one of his most important works—with a line from a Hopkins poem.

As overall Editor, Wolff explains why chapters like the Hopkins profile appear in this book: “Many of these official or unofficial saints have been in situations similar to our own in Church history. They have spoken or acted in ways that challenged the prevailing authorities, knowing they risked reputation, livelihood, sometimes their heads—all the while remaining faithful. How did they do it? Why did they not just leave the Church or go on to another calling? What disposed them to dissent while remaining faithful to principles, to community? What was the source of their strength?”

As you watch the news unfold out of the Vatican in 2013, if you’re feeling anxious about the future of the world’s biggest organized religious body—switch gears and buy a copy of this terrific new collection. Pour a cup of coffee or tea, sit back in a comfortable chair with this volume—and enjoy learning about these dozens of men and women who still are quite capable of stirring hope in our hearts.

REVIEWED BY READTHESPIRIT EDITOR DAVID CRUMM

MORE STORIES ABOUT THIS CATHOLIC MOMENT

FATHER THOMAS REESE on the Next Pope: Who will elect the next pope? Europeans form the majority of the voting cardinals.

DAVID BRIGGS on Catholic Growth: Is the Catholic Church fading in America? No! It’s booming and church leaders need to plan for that growth.

TERRY GALAGHER on Catholic Critics: As Catholics, should we stay? A week-long series of OurValues columns exploring the push-and-pull felt by millions of American Catholics.

GREG TOBIN on Pope John XXIII: The inspiring story of how an Italian farm boy rose to surprise the world in his brief reign as pontiff.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.