Catholicism

Addressing the Changing Face of Faith

Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com
Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com

The 6.5 million people in the greater Houston area now surpass New York City and Los Angeles as the most racially and ethnically diverse urban area in the U.S. That's the site where a broad spectrum of U.S. church leaders met this week to consider the impact of immigration on their congregations, and on the rapidly changing expressions of Christianity within North American culture.

The group gathered at the annual convocation of Christian Churches Together in the USA, which includes the leadership of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, several Pentecostal and evangelical denominations, the Orthodox Churches, some Historic Black churches, and nearly all the major historic Protestant denominations. All of these are experiencing the impact of immigration. Most dramatically, for instance, 54 percent of millennials — those born after 1982 — who are Catholic are Latinos. Of the 44 million people living in the United States who were born in another country, 74 percent are Christian, while only 5 percent are Muslim, 4 percent Buddhist, and 3 percent Hindu.

While church leaders in the U.S. have expressed united support for the reform of U.S. immigration laws, this is the first time an ecumenical body has gathered to examine together the actual consequences of immigration on the life and witness of its churches.

Pope Francis: 'We Will Not Find the Lord Unless We Truly Accept the Marginalized'

Pope Francis in September, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis in September, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

In a powerful sermon that signaled his desire to push ahead with historic reforms, Pope Francis on Sunday said the Roman Catholic Church must be open and welcoming, whatever the costs.

He also warned the hierarchy not to be “a closed caste” but to lead in reaching out to all who are rejected by society and the church.

“There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost,” Francis told hundreds of cardinals and bishops arrayed before him in St. Peter’s Basilica at a Mass centered on the story of Jesus healing a leper rather than rejecting him.

“Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking,” the pope said as he outlined the current debate in the church between those seen as doctrinal legalists and those, like Francis, who want a more pastoral approach.

“Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences,” Francis declared. “For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family. And this is scandalous to some people!”

Breeding 'Like Rabbits,' Sex by Rhythm Method, and Other Natural Family Planning Myths

Pope Francis in October. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis in October. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

In discussing birth control and population issues when visiting the Philippines recently, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church promoted “responsible parenthood” that didn’t require good Catholics to be “like rabbits.” The frank imagery prompted a flurry of playfully creative headlines that ranged from mocking to woeful. And the byproduct of such reaction stories? The continued misinformation on what Catholics currently practice and what the Catholic Church actually teaches when it comes to family planning.

The pope’s remarks referenced Catholic teaching that prohibits artificial birth control. Family size, according to the Church, should be regulated by abstinence or a form of Natural Family Planning, sometimes characterized simply as trying really hard not to have sex when you’re “not supposed to,” which often fails and results in a ton of kids. Proponents of NFP say the method(s), and its practitioners, are too often misunderstood.

NFP for pregnancy prevention involves charting a woman’s cycles by testing for various biological markers — like basal temperature or cervical mucous — in order to assess fertile days and abstain from sex during that time. According to the World Health Organization, fertility awareness methods like NFP are 95-97 percent effective when used correctly and consistently (75 percent with typical use), and individual NFP models claim higher effectiveness.

Practicing NFP can certainly be complicated, especially when taking into account marriage and family dynamics that aren’t always conducive to the attention it requires.

But while it may be more difficult than, say, popping a daily pill or using an IUD, modern technology — like tracking apps and temperature-monitoting gadgets — is simplifying the process and coinciding with a resurgence in popularity. NFP practitioners say they appreciate the choice it offers — whether the motivation is following Church teaching or simply avoiding synthetic hormones.

You Can Really Call This Wine ‘Vintage Francis’

Photo via Kimberly Winston / RNS
“Our Lady of the Grapes” overlooks the Trinitas Cellars vineyard in Napa Valley. Photo via Kimberly Winston / RNS

It was a good thing for Trinitas Cellars that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name Pope Francis, and not, say Pope Malbecius.

When the Argentine cardinal became pope in 2013, Trinitas didn’t have any malbec — the famous Argentine grape — in its cellars. But it happened to have a few barrels of cabernet franc.

Behold! Thus was born “Cabernet FRANCis,” a 2012 red wine from Trinitas, a Catholic-owned winery nestled behind the iconic grape crusher statue at the southern foot of the Napa Valley.

“People kept asking me, ‘Why didn’t you make the pope a malbec?’” said Garrett Busch, the 28-year-old CEO of Trinitas, as he spoke in the winery’s book-lined library tasting room, a bottle of the wine before him. “And I’m like, ‘Come on guys, he made it easy on us.’”

Actually, the story is a bit more complicated. Trinitas, which is owned by Garrett’s parents, Tim and Steph Busch, made the family’s Catholic faith a part of business since its founding in 2002. Meetings and special events begin with prayer, winery dinners start with grace, and the winery’s website announces the family’s intention to “serve God in all they do.”

Even its name is Latin for the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Catholic Church Losing Ground in Latin America

Pope Francis in his popemobile in Brazil for the re-enactment of the Way of the Cross. Photo via Robson Coehlo/RNS

In just one generation, Latin America has seen the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic plummet, with more people becoming Protestant or dropping religion altogether, a new report shows.

The shift is dramatic for a region that has long been a bastion of Catholicism. With more than 425 million Catholics, Latin America accounts for nearly 40 percent of the global Catholic population. Through the 1960s, at least 90 percent of Latin Americans were Catholic, and 84 percent of people surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center said they were raised Catholic.

But the report released Nov. 13 found that only 69 percent of Latin Americans still consider themselves Catholic, with more people switching to more conservative Protestant churches (19 percent) or describing themselves as agnostic or religiously unaffiliated (8 percent).

Even last year’s election of an Argentine as pope to head the Catholic Church has led to conflicting feelings in Latin America.

“While it is too soon to know whether (Pope) Francis can stop or reverse the church’s losses in the region, the new survey finds that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favorably and consider his papacy a major change for the church,” the report said. “But former Catholics are more skeptical about Pope Francis. Only in Argentina and Uruguay do majorities of ex-Catholics express a favorable view of the pope.”

New York Archdiocese, One of the World’s Grandest, Shrinks

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan prays during a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz/RNS.

The Archdiocese of New York, with the second-largest Catholic population in the country and an unparalleled place in U.S. church history, is shrinking: Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Nov. 2 announced that nearly a third of the archdiocese’s 368 parishes would be merging, and some would close.

“This time of transition in the history of the archdiocese will undoubtedly be difficult for people who live in parishes that will merge,” Dolan said in a statement. “There will be many who are hurt and upset as they experience what will be a change in their spiritual lives, and I will be one of them.”

The reorganization was years in the making and some downsizing appeared inevitable, as happened in the last round of cutbacks, in 2007. While the sprawling archdiocese is still home to 2.8 million Catholics, fewer of them are attending Mass or Catholic schools, and costs are rising. The archdiocese said it is spending $40 million a year to prop up failing or redundant parishes.

Still, the extent of the changes, the largest in the more than 200-year history of the archdiocese, upset many Catholics, especially in neighborhoods where waves of immigration had built and revived parishes across the decades.

“I feel very sad; I was baptized here,” Sonia Cintron, 75, a member of the Church of the Holy Rosary in East Harlem, told The New York Times. “Here we’re family; we loved each other.”

Some parishioners have vowed to try to keep their churches open through petitions and protests.

Putting the Immigration Debate in Human Terms

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently stated that people who come into the country unauthorized to find work and support their families are doing so as “an act of love.” In a Miami Herald op-ed, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski is of Miami echoed the idea that this conversation is fundamentally about people:

To demonize irregular migrants as “lawbreakers” certainly generates heat but does not give any light to the urgent task of fixing our broken immigration system. This is not to condone the violation of the law — but as Gov. Bush suggests, these migrants are not criminals. Being in the United States without proper documents is not a criminal felony but a civil misdemeanor.

With his comment, Gov. Bush hit a nerve that runs through the immigration debate… With one three-word phrase, Gov. Bush has helped humanize these migrants — they are human beings who love their families, just as Americans do . This runs counter to the rhetoric of many shrill anti-immigrant voices and reframes the debate in human terms.

Read full article HERE .

Attendees: They Came, They Saw, They Said...

“The more I listened to Jim Wallis, the more that word ‘engagement’ is what entered my mind. And all I could think of is that we are a very entertainment-centered culture, and I’m kind of entertainment-centered in many ways myself. But ‘engagement’ — that is the only choice that we can make as Christians. We have to be engaged in the world: ‘I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.’ You didn’t sit there and watch a movie about hunger; you did something about it.

Our Lady of the Watershed

OUR LADY QUEEN of Peace church sits atop a low bluff overlooking the Army Navy golf course. This vibrant Arlington, Va. Catholic community has a history of staring hopelessness in the eye and declaring, “Not on our standing ground!”

Queen of Peace was founded by African Americans in the midst of virulent segregation. In the 1940s, Arlington’s black Catholics had to travel two hours by buses to attend a Mass where they were welcome. There was a closer church, but black Catholics were relegated to the back pew and prevented from receiving communion before whites. In 1945, 16 families pooled their money, hired a black real estate agent, and purchased small parcels of adjoining property under various names so as to not arouse suspicion. In an era when redlining and “neighborhood covenants” protected white enclaves and economic power, this was a courageous act. A little less than two acres—their standing ground—was purchased for $14,000. The bishop blessed Queen of Peace, Arlington’s first black Catholic congregation, on Pentecost Sunday 1947.

Now, nearly 70 years later, this multicultural community is asking a new question: With global temperatures rising and changes visible everywhere in nature, how do we face the truth of climate change?

During a speaker series in March focused on “the integrity of creation,” I encouraged them to overlap the ecclesial concept of “parish” with the ecological one of “watershed.” For life to persist, there must be living water. Scientists tell us that each watershed, no matter how small, is responsive to climate change. Since human activity has destabilized the climate, changing human activity is important in undoing the harm. And since the earth’s biosphere is made up of interlinked watershed communities, perhaps restoring our particular watershed is analogous to healing the earth at its “cellular” level, which would be a positive contribution.

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Catholic Throwback Thursday: Remembering The Other "Bishop Of The Slums"

Remembering Dom Hélder, 1999: The periodical “Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice” wrote of Dom Hélder at the time of his death in 1999: "The gospel is so contrary to the way of the world that it has to be shown, not merely told. Dom Helder Camara is one who showed the way. Helder Camara was the Brazilian Catholic archbishop who became renowned throughout the world as the inspirer of Latin America’s liberation theology movement. Barely five feet tall, Dom Helder never embraced the pomp and ceremony of his rank. He wore a plain brown cassock and a simple wooden cross. As a young priest he served in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro. It was here that he first began to speak of the unjust structures of poverty, saying, "When you live with the poor, you realize that, even though they cannot read or write, they certainly know how to think." In 1955, Camara founded CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, the first organization of its kind in the world. In 1960, during the preparatory meetings for Vatican II, Dom Helder brought to Rome the agenda of a "preferential option for the poor." He even suggested that the pope give the Vatican and all its art to the United Nations for its work with the poor, and live in a humble manner as bishop of Rome. Camara himself refused the episcopal mansion, choosing instead a modest three-room house behind the church in Recife, Brazil. When Mother Teresa asked him how he managed to maintain his humility, Camara replied that he had just to imagine himself making a triumphant entry into Jerusalem—not as Jesus, but as the ass. Dom Helder Camara died on August 27, 1999, at age 90, lying in his hammock surrounded by his closest friends. We offer these memories of Dom Helder from more of his "friends," far and wide. —The Editors”

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