Critical Mass

U.S. Catholics make up just 6 percent of the global Catholic Church’s nearly 1.2 billion baptized members. In Africa, Latin America, and the Philippines, membership from conversions and population growth is increasing rapidly, as are vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This accounts for a worldwide increase in the number of priests.

Today there are more bishops and cardinals from developing nations than ever before. Because the Roman Catholic Church adapted its liturgy to local languages and customs after Vatican II, Catholics in Africa dance as Communion is brought to the altar, and the liturgical vestments reflect African designs and colors. Local people in the developing world find this reformed church attractive and inviting. The Church also offers them an array of urgently needed social services—food, shelter, medicine, wartime sanctuary, advocacy for the poor—and rare opportunities for education and career advancement.

From the Vatican’s perspective, growth in these regions shows the Church succeeding in its mission. Such success may also cause Church leaders to downplay the concerns and grievances of Catholics in the developed world. Why is the Church not succeeding in the same ways there?

THIS YEAR MARKS the beginning of a three-year commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, which addressed the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. The council convened in 1962 under Pope John XXIII and was completed in 1965 under Pope Paul VI. It changed the ways the Church and smaller groupings of Catholics engaged society. Pope John XXIII said, “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in,” and the consequences have been far-reaching.

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