Cottage cheese breakfast at 4 am in Colorado Springs, a skinny caramel latte while blogging in Salt Lake City at 8, lunch in Los Angeles. I'm trying to take in the astonishing way of life that technology makes possible this morning.
"In 1945, when Mary Paul heard God’s call to religious life, she could not enter any community of women religious in her hometown of Philadelphia, including the Sisters of Mercy. Not because her vocation was untrue, but because she was a person of color. At the time, women of color in the city were referred to three orders: the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary in Harlem, N.Y., or the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans -- communities comprised mostly of women of color. Paul entered the Baltimore order. Her story is the story of many other women of color who were refused entrance to so-called “white” communities."
Just a year later, however, Mother Mary Bernard became the superior of the Merion Regional Community of the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia. Bernard asked her novices to pray for the entrance of a “colored sister” into the community. And in 1956, after being educated by the Mercy sisters in high school, Sr. Cora Marie Billings, Paul’s niece, entered the community and Bernard’s prayers were answered."
A reader sends word of this remarkable interview with a Muslim missionary ("Daniel") who has recently been baptized as an Orthodox Christian in London. This strangely is a translation of a translation of a translation and comes via the blog Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. The blogger believes the interview to be authentic.
"The first time that I had the desire to study the New Testament in detail was when I was in front of the Kaaba in Mecca—I lived for a time in Mecca. Christian literature is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia and many websites are even blocked, but with the development of modern communications, it is not difficult for those who are looking to find the Word of God. After a time, I tried to convince and American who was working in the Saudi capital to convert to Islam. When I spoke to him, he responded with much courage and conviction. I was surprised by his courage, because in Saudi Arabia a man who preaches Christianity can easily be killed. Conversations with Christians in Saudi Arabia were very important for me. As someone associated with the Islamic mission in Arabia, I encountered many foreigners."
"I agree that there are many secret Christians in Saudi Arabia. Several times I myself have encountered people who were probably secret Christians. We need to understand that in Saudi Arabia and other countries, maybe the majority of Muslims go to the mosque not because their faith encourages them to, but because they are obliged to do so under the pressure of laws and customs. Visiting the mosque becomes a burden. Muslims of today are rather less religious than people in the Christian world believe."
"In Muslim countries, many people search for truth and it’s because of this that the Christian mission will grow. Most promote Christianity among friends, and recently there have been television networks and many more internet sites dedicated to mission among Muslims. In general, many Muslims distance themselves from Islam and this is especially visible in Western countries. In Great Britain, many Muslims have converted to Christianity. In the Anglican Church, Muslims who have adopted Christianity are estimated at a hundred thousand people. Many of them are Pakistanis. They have their own Christian churches and are forced to hide because of the danger of reprisals from the Muslims. There are also Arab and Bengali converts to Christianity. Very many convert because of mixed marriages."
"Sherry's note: I've never heard this statistic before that that doesn't mean it is impossible. There are some creative missionary endeavors within evangelical Anglicanism, especially in the global south.
On Muslim practice in the UK
The presence of mosques in the UK is very weak. Most Muslims won’t ever go to a mosque. The young people have effectively left Islam, even if they say that they’re still Muslims. In the mosques they don’t find a common language with the Imams from Pakistan or Bangladesh. Young people can barely speak Urdu or Bengali but only English. Many are ashamed of Islam because of terrorism. Our inter-religious council investigated mosque attendance and we know what the real picture is and it is especially alarming for Islam, but it is to the advantage of certain people to present Islam as an immense force.
Are there many Muslims who convert to Christianity in Great Britain?
"On the one hand, there are very many. This happens without any publicity. In effect, according to most schools of Islam an apostate from Islam should be executed, even though the imams of the chief mosques of London say that they cannot be executed for apostasy from Islam.
However, on the other hand, we can say that there are very few, since many Muslims simply abandon their faith and become unbelievers. Unbelief is an illness common to all. Certain Muslims try to present atheism and the absence of religion as characteristics of Christian civilization, but Muslims themselves, even more than Christians, lose their faith in the Western world."
Sherry's note: the issue of "secret believers" in both Islam and Hinduism is getting a lot of attention in the evangelical missions world. Some of these undercover believers in Jesus are baptized and would call themselves Christians. Others are not baptized and consider themselves to be both culturally Muslim and spiritually followers of Jesus. Some missionaries are intentionally fostering "NBB" (Non Baptized Believers) with the idea that someone who is not forced out of their family and cultural setting - as so many Muslim Background Believers are - is much better placed to be an evangelizing influence
The only category in Catholic or Orthodox ecclesiology for a "non baptized believer" would be a sort of life-long catechumen. But a catechumen that has no intention of being baptized eventually or of calling him or herself a "Christian" which is - or at least, has been - unthinkable. Welcome to post-modernity. This movement is highly controversial in evangelical circles as well. There are very rough estimates that there night be as many as 15 million "Non-baptized believers" in the Muslim and Hindu worlds.
I'm planning a series of posts on the huge Lausanne missions conference to be held in Cape Town in October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the landmark Edinburgh Missions Conference of 1910. Over 4,000 invited missions leaders from all over the world will attend. It is an ecumenical conference of evangelical missions.
If there is any Catholic representation at this conference, it is low key and informal. But the many of the leaders are former Catholics. And the fruits of the conference will ultimately affect Catholics all over the world. A number of these leaders are working in Europe, working to stem the tide of secular disbelief there.
As part of the preparation for this conference, Christianity Today is sponsoring a web based "Global Conversation" on 12 topics of major interest to evangelical missionaries. The topic for December, 2009 was Muslim Followers of Jesus. It was a spirited conversation with lots of comments and the website is worth perusing for those who want to get a better sense of this wholly new development in the history of the Christian-Muslim relationship.
19 million additional Catholics entered the Church in 2008: Most are baptized infants. But perhaps a million could be older children or adult converts.
If brought together they would produce a Catholic Mexico City, the second largest city on earth:
That means 52,055 additional Catholics or a new Durango, Colorado every day
That means 2,169 additional Catholics every hour
36 additional Catholics every second
In the 22 seconds that it took me to read the lines above out loud, an additional 795 Catholics joined us on this earth in 2008.
19 million immortals 19 million people created by God 19 million people redeemed by Jesus Christ 19 million members of the Body of Christ 19 million people who need to encounter Christ personally and respond to his call to follow him 19 million people anointed by Christ himself for a vocation, to play a unique part in his redemption of the world 19 million people given charisms for the sake of others (and most people are given more than one!)
19 million people who need to be loved, prayed for, fed, housed, clothed, educated, evangelized, catechized, to receive the sacraments, have a place to attend Mass regularly, receive help in discerning and answering God's call, and to be encouraged along the journey.
At the current 0.03508% ratio of priests (3.5/100ths of 1%) in the Catholic Church those 19 million would include 6,650 priestly vocations.
Can we take this in? What is God doing? What are we called to do? What implications do you see?
It's worth thinking about. Cause we are going to find that another 16 - 20 million entered in 2009. A conservative estimate would put our numbers at 1.2 billion by the end of 2010.
More news of Catholic growth around the world. Via Zenit. (A reader pointed out that I'd gotten the original number wrong. It is 19 million, not 17 million. We are growing faster than I knew!)
A net gain (after deaths) of 19 million new Catholics in 2008 bringing the global total to 1,166,000. That is a growth of 1.7% which is slightly ahead of the world's population growth rate.
Catholics make up 17.4% of the human race. The number of Catholics grew fastest in Africa (up 1.83%) and the Americas ( 1.57%) with Europe in last place (0.7%)
The overall number of priests continues to grow slowly. There were 409,166 Catholic priests in 2008. There was also a 1% growth in seminarians in 2008. Africa seminarian numbers were up 3.6%, Asia up 4.4% and Oceania up 6.5% (which is particularly good news).
In Europe, however, there was a 4.3% drop and the numbers in America have remained more or less stable.
The number of religious women continues to grow dramatically in Africa (up 21.2% since 2000) and Asia (up 16.4%) but the hemorrhage in Europe and North America continues so there was a significant overall loss in numbers.
19 million additional Catholics in 2008. To give some perspective, that's considerably larger than the number of Southern Baptists in the US (16 million) - the second largest communion in the country.
So every year, Catholics are adding an entire Southern Baptist Convention and then some to our numbers. Never, in 2,000 years, has a Christian group dealt with such numbers.
Instead of getting stuck on what happened in the west two generations ago, we need to be figuring out how to evangelize, form, and care for the staggering numbers coming our way today.
The duty of the present moment is the call of God.
I have a scholar-friend doing research in Poland right now who is fascinated by the story of this woman, Wanda Poltawska who is known to have been one of Pope John Paul's closest friends (and he had a great capacity for friendship).
What a life. Victim of Nazi medical experiments, beneficiary of a miraculous healing through Padre Pio, intimate friend to one of the great international figures of her day. Poltowska could serve as a poster child for the tragedies and glories of 20th century Poland. I've read that when Padre Pio received the letter from then Bishop Karol Wojtyla asking him to pray for the healing of this wife, mother, and physician, Pio said "This one, one cannot refuse".
My friend's Fulbright research is on the Catholic laity so he doesn't want to focus primarily on her relationship with Pope John Paul II but on her own experience as a serious lay Catholic. Wanda Poltawska was an expert in human sexuality and one of John Paul's advisors for his work in the Theology of the Body.
There has been considerable consternation in some ecclesial circles about the publication of her correspondence with the Pope and accusations that she is attempting to "profit" from her friendship with JPII.
I, for one, would very much like to hear from his friends while they are living. And it seems most appropriate as his cause for canonization is underway.
Here's another moving glimpse of Catholic life and faith outside the west via the blog: Catholic American Eyes in Korea. The magnificent bronze doors of the Cathedral in Seoul depict the sufferings of early Catholics:
Cathedral doors were to express in bronze relief the beginning history of the Catholic Church of Korea. For one year Prof. Choi traveled around Korea to the different pilgrimage sites, and spent time reading Catholicism's history in Korea so the representation would be true to history.
Depictions on the doors are the first Chinese priest saying Mass, the representation of his first catechist receiving communion, a Paris foreign missioner taking care of orphans, persecution of the Catholics, and the clay pots that the Catholics sold to make a living during the years of persecution. It does give one a feel for the years of persecution and what it must have meant to the first Christians.
The artist is a convert to Catholicism himself who took the name John Vianney. The 1950's in Korea was a time of war (think MASH) and the experience fueled Choi's conversion.
In 1953 Prof. Choi entered Seoul School of art and sculpture after experiencing the cruelty and shock of war. His dean said he would make a good religious and recommended he enter the Catholic Church. He started to receive instructions was baptized and continued to relate his art to his religion. He hopes all those who come to the Cathedral and see the doors will want to imitate the faith of these early Catholics.
"I'm beginning to realize that it's (to use language from Pope John Paul II) a “theology of the body” thing.
I object to full body scanning because I believe that, with the level of detail it offers (even if in silhouette), it violates what Pope John Paul called the spousal meaning of the body.
The body's design itself makes it clear that we are meant for an "other", and we generally choose that "other" with care, because we are vulnerable in revealing ourselves.
Even at the doctor's office, we don't go full frontal unless that is precisely where our health is in question. (That's why they give you that crazy paper outfit.) Self-revelation in the body is a lovely (in the full sense of the word), intimate gift. Because the body is meant for communion. Always.
It is not true that our body is just a sort of envelope for a sexlessly generic soul, or that it is a strange animal-like appendage to the "important," spiritual part, but that really doesn't matter in itself (although plenty of people in our culture seem to think this). We ought to be alert to the tremendous significance of being "bodied persons": God became incarnate so he could relate to us in this very human way!
So there's something really not right, in my book, with a "revelation" of the body that takes place anonymously, apart from personal communion, in which I am being revealed to someone I cannot see or know; whose reaction I cannot gauge; whose trustworthiness with the sacredness of my body's image I am asked to take on the good faith of the United States' Transportation Security Administration."
How would you respond to Sr. Anne's question. What do you want to say to the TSA?
John Allen quotes an interesting observation from Archbishop Timothy Dolan while interviewing Mother Mary Clare Millea of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the sister in charge of a Vatican-sponsored apostolic visitation of women religious in America.
Allen: I was talking yesterday with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and he made the argument that it’s a mistake for American Catholics to compare today’s numbers on anything, including religious life, with the peak period of the 1950s, because historically that peak was an aberration. Do you agree?
Mother Millea: Yes, definitely. That was a very unusual and unique peak in the number of vocations in the 1950’s. After the pioneering and the struggling times, part of it is that we built so many institutions. Those institutions met so many young people and influenced their lives, causing them to join and to become a part of that. That was a passing phenomenon, and many of the institutions have been taken over by other people so capably.
I'm so grateful when people with the status of Archbishop Dolan and Mother Millea spread the word. The American vocation spike that some want to insist represented the reality of the entire pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, was a one country, one generation aberration.
In addition to the institutional factor that Mother Millea mentions, there is some evidence that the horrific events of the 30's and 40's resulting in a world living under a nuclear Sword of Damacles, made many young men and women think again about secular life (understandably!). There were probably a number of other factors that led to the "one brief shining moment" but if we keep regarding the 50's as the American Catholic Camelot, we will profoundly misunderstand the significance of what has happened since and the times in which we live.
As I wrote last summer, in a post called "Generational Shift".
The bloodbath of World War I had overlapped with the October revolution in Russia which was ferociously athiestic. In fact, Pope Pius XI spoke of the "Terrible Triangle" - referring to persecution of Christians in the new Soviet Union and the civil wars in Mexico and Spain in which Catholics and the Church suffered horribly. Simultaneously, Hitler rose to Power in Germany. It all ended in another global catastrophe - World War II, the Holocaust, the bombing of HIroshima, and the beginning of the long anxiety of the nuclear era and the cold war.
Their literature, which I read a great deal of while preparing to teach the graduate course in the Theology of the Laity at Sacred Heart Seminary last June, is filled with anxiety and cataclysmic language. They talked as though all of life hung by a thread while we look back and think of them as inhabiting a serene, sunlit pastoral valley flowing with ecclesial milk and honey. i think we have to let the pre-Vatican II generation speak for itself in these matters. By comparison, we are the ones living in the sunlit valley.
I recently came across a blogger who wrote that any "faithful" Catholic, would, if they had the choice, choose to live in the American Catholic Church of 1940 rather than the present. I was stupefied. Especially by the fact that no participant in the conversation raised the obvious problems with that assertion.
Would I rather live in 1940? Because the Catholic Church was so much healthier and strong in 1940 than it is today?
1940: the year that the Nazis marched into Catholic France and Belgium? The year when the whole world hovered on the edge of a cataclysm that was going to take 60 million lives and throw Christian Europe into an abyss from which it has never really recovered? The year that Maximilian Kolbe was hiding 2,000 Jews in his Franciscan community? 1940: The year of despair for millions and millions of Catholics in France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Italy. That 1940? Innumerable promising Catholic leaders and movements were crushed when the Nazis, and later, the Communists marched in. How many Catholics lost their faith in the midst of that unimaginable horror?
Two days ago, the baptized daughter of a holocaust survivor told me a story her Jewish mother had just revealed before her recent death. From about 1940.
As a very young woman, her mother, who was raised in Germany, had been raped by German soldiers. Somehow she and her family escaped to France where she discovered she was pregnant while in hiding. To save the lives of the rest of the family, the baby's grandmother, a physician, aborted her own grandchild. The woman telling me her mother's story ended by saying "I never understood why my mother refused to believe in God again because I thought her whole family had survived. Now I understand."
Nearly everyone would concede that 1940 was a very bad year for Catholics in Europe. But do we really think of 1940 in the US as a sealed off sunlit island in a world in anguish? Where Catholic institutions were booming and all was right with the world?
Or are we talking about the real American 1940 when Catherine Doherty was battling for the most minimal baptismal rights for black Catholics - like being allowed to attend local parishes, go to Catholic schools and universities, etc? Most Catholic parishes and Institutions reflected the deep, unreflective racism of the surrounding culture - even toward fellow Catholics. (One vivid anecdote: In the late 40's, Catherine Doherty was attacked and had her clothes torn off her by a group of white Catholic women in Georgia when she challenged them on this issue. She was rescued by the black janitor.) The Church teaches that racism is an "intrinsic evil" and in 1940, it was just as wide-spread among Catholics as anyone else.
In 1940, the famous ethnic Catholic enclaves in the US that protected us from the surrounding Protestant culture were European ethnic enclaves. How many times have I been told of the old pattern where there was an Irish Catholic Church and a German Catholic Church and an Italian Catholic Church all within a mile? I was just walking around historic Boston a couple weeks ago where there was three ethnic Catholic churches within a few blocks of one another. Are we to believe that these Catholics weren't in anguish about their families and friends in Europe in 1940?
1940 - when the young men filling those packed Catholic schools were about to march off to war by the hundreds of thousands? From 1940 - 1945, 300,000 young American men died on the battlefields of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Another 300,000 were wounded, many maimed and traumatized for life. Many of them and their mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, and children were Catholic. Sounds like bliss to me.
My father was living in 1940 and part of his reward was getting to liberate a death camp in May, 1945, as a teenager. (As a small child, I wondered about my dad's collection of World War II books complete with extremely graphic and horrifying paintings and photographs of death camp survivors. It was only much later that he told me about his concentration camp experience and I understood.)
And then after the war, huge parts of Europe were taken over by Communist regimes who were virulently anti-Christian and anti-Catholic and Catholics and Catholic institutions in eastern Europe lived through another two generations of suppression and suffering. While Catholics in the US and the rest of the world lived under the shadow and constant anxiety of cold war and possible nuclear holocaust.
No wonder, opinion polls of young people in the 40's and 50's show that often the majority of young people did not expect to live a normal, full life, they were convinced that they would die in war, atomic holocaust or something like that. The times were really, really bad in 1940 and all adult Catholics living then knew the times were bad. No one living then thought of it as a kind of golden age for the faith. "Happy Days" was a 70 - 80's sitcom, not a 1940's reality.
Which was one reason so many entered religious life and the priesthood between 1945 and 1965.
And why the US Catholic Church has more priests today, in 2010, than she did in 1945. The post-war/cold war "bump" had not yet happened.
As one Dutch priest survivor of the war told Fr. Mike recently, many of his contemporaries entered priesthood because they had promised God they would become a priest if they survived. Of his minor seminary class of 78, only 18 were ultimately ordained - and of that 18 - he was the only one who had not left the priesthood.
We all know this history. And yet, when discussing the fortunes of the Catholic Church before and after Vatican II around the blogosphere, we suddenly became a Church without a real history. As though we had blotted out everything that happened between 1914 and 1962. Everything that the generation that held the Second Vatican Council had lived and suffered through and knew all too well.
I know that no one in the blogosphere is thinking or saying "It was ultimately a good thing that a global cataclysm annihilated the lives and hopes of so many millions because it made tens of thousands of American guys think again about becoming priests. Let's do that again."
But when, in the name of our current culture war battles, we accept selective amnesia and mythology as a substitute for history, we are deceiving ourselves. Self-deception makes for very bad theology and very poor discernment of our past, our present, and our future.
Being a faithful Catholic in the early 21st century is very difficult and complex. Being a faith-filled Catholic in the mid 21st century is going to be very difficult and complex.
But if we think it was less difficult and less complex in the early and mid 20th century because they had the Baltimore Catechism and the Latin Mass, we have utterly, utterly left reality behind.
Here's a charming, oh-so-Roman story that will start your day off right: The card-carrying Communist barber who cut "Fr. Karol's" hair and was repaid by a miracle. From the Times.
"I am not a saint, I am a sinner" says Giovanni Vecchio as he snips at a customer's hair in his barber's shop in a side street of a workaday Rome suburb. "But I have known a saint." He pauses, scissors in mid-air. "In fact, I have cut his hair".
If - or when - the late Pope John Paul II is canonised, it will be in part thanks to Mr Vecchio. Over 30 years ago, when the barber's shop he worked in was near the Vatican, a Polish prelate called Karol Wojtyla wandered in, sat down, and had his hair cut. He became a regular customer."
Vecchio didn't know who Fr Karol was. To him, a bishop was a just another priest. The barber was standing in St. Peter's Square in 1978 when he heard the new Pope's voice and recognized it. "I know him! I cut his hair!"
"But the encounter changed his life: last year, when he was entering hospital in great pain for a hernia operation, he saw a black and white photograph of John Paul II as a young man hanging at the entrance, and "our eyes met". Shortly afterwards, he was discharged. The hernia - and the pain - had miraculously disappeared.
What makes the "miracle" all the more remarkable is that Mr Vecchio, although baptised a Catholic, is a lifelong Communist, who still keeps his membership card in his wallet. His old-fashioned mirror-lined barber's shop however is now filled not only with mementoes of John Paul, including photographs and a pile of biographies, but also other signs of devotion such as images of Mother Teresa of Calcutta amid the family snaps and collections of razors, hairdryers and shaving brushes.
Mr Vecchio, an animated and - ironically - bald man of 61 who keeps fit by jogging, sees no contradiction, even though John Paul was instrumental in bringing down Communism in the Eastern bloc. "When I first saw him I immediately recognised the goodness in his eyes. At their best, I don't really think there's much difference between the Catholic Church and the ideals of Communism."
Taiwan’s Tai Chung diocese has inaugurated a “Disciples University,” creating a new channel for the evangelization formation and charitable services on the Internet.
These initiatives represent the fulfillment of several main points mentioned by a diocesan Congress on Evangelization and Pastoral Ministry, Fides reports.
Among the subjects to be pursued are the following: vocational and priestly formation, economic development, parochial events, social care, the pastoral care of new immigrants and foreign faithful, family and marriage, culture, and education.
Local Bishop Martin Su Yao Wen said that “the university seeks to take advantage of new technologies to the maximum, i.e. the web, to launch the faith formation, helping even non-Christians to find the treasure of faith on the web”.
According to Disciples University coordinator, Fr Joseph Huang, “the choice of the name of the University was motivated by a desire to encourage every believer to be a disciple of the Lord, to always ‘recharge’ our spiritual life so as to be able to assume the mission that Jesus has entrusted to us: the evangelization of all peoples.”