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Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 07:44
Enough butter cup twirling already . . . (Mark Shea has accused me on more than one occasion of being a classic English romantic.)

I was meditating during my most recent trip on the various Catholic "hot spots" that I have become aware of around the country over the years. We have worked in 40% of US dioceses now and there are great things happening all over the country. But some areas seemed to have developed a cluster of initiatives that are working synergistically together to transform the general spiritual atmosphere of the place.

One of the healthiest dioceses I've ever worked in where the diocesan staff are openly disciples (yes, I am implying that this is not always the case.). Orthodox, wonderfully creative and not driven by fear. This may be one consequence of living in the Bible belt where it is normal for Christian faith to manifest in public and where Catholics don't feel as besieged by the culture. The renewal in Atlanta started about 15 years ago and one of the major catalysts seems to have been Eucharistic Adoration.

Update: Here's something I wrote in 2003 on Mark's blog when I was fresh from working in Atlanta:

"I just returned from 10 days in Atlanta and want to spread the good news. Of the 51 dioceses that I have worked in so far, Atlanta has to be the healthiest. A spiritual renewal has transformed the dioceses over the past 10 years but it has yet to attract national attention. Archbishop Donoghue, who is, I was told, very low key, has been effectively re-shaping the diocese with the collaboration of some high-powered clergy and laity without any of the public outcry and fireworks that we have to come to expect. Episcopal leadership, it seems, doesn't have to be in your face like Bruskewitz or as high profile as Chaput to be effective.

The Archbishop's first move was to establish Perpetual Adoration in the cathedral which has spread to 8 or 9 other parishes while Adoration on a more limited scale is now held in over 40 other parishes. An annual Eucharistic congress was begun on the Feast of Corpus Christi which attracted 20,000 Catholics last year and filled the Convention Center. I understand that they have invited Cardinal Ratzinger to speak at the next Congress. Religious orders who refused to teach with the Church have been removed from the diocese without any fanfare. Pastors who resisted were quietly exiled to small rural parishes or sent away to study for a very long time.

Atlanta has 48 major and minor seminarians and a large and very active Serra Club. The pastors I met are both orthodox and pastorally effective. (Archbishop Timothy Dolan was leading a priests retreat for the diocese while I was there, so priests were scarce.) The lay movements such as Regnum Christi and the charismatic renewal are very active. Parishes are huge and full of life. Local Catholics would enthusiastically recommend 3 or 4 dynamic local parishes in the same breath - something that I have never encountered before in any diocese. They aren't traditionalists - I didn't encounter any complaints about the liturgy or significant hankering for the Latin liturgy although some Latin was incorporated into the liturgy in simple, unostentatious ways. They are just reverent, whole-hearted, Novus Ordo-JPII Catholics.

The lay staff that I got to know at both the parish and diocesan level were most impressive. They are orthodox, smart, high-powered, and well-formed. They love their archbishop, were thrilled about the renewal of the diocese, and have played a major role in fostering that renewal with the support of the archbishop. For instance, there are three full-time lay staff at the cathedral dedicated entirely to adult evangelization and formation - a first in my experience! This team knows their stuff and is both pro-active and creative. One example: They refused to do Renew or Alpha because of legitimate concerns over content but have created and are currently piloting an alternate, fully Catholic Alpha-style outreach to the unchurched. For all the leaders I met, Jesus Christ is the center.

If you visit Atlanta with visions of Scarlett O'Hara and the ante-bellum South in your head, forget it. Atlanta is swarming with transplants from the northeast (I only met one native-born Georgian while I was there)who talk like they are from New Jersey and drive like bats out of hell and Sherman eliminated most of the plantations. But if you'd like to see what authentic Catholic renewal looks like at the parish and diocesan level, make a pilgrimage to northern Georgia. The South is rising again!"

Detroit/Ann Arbor area:
While the city of Detroit is practically a third world city, southern Michigan is humming with serious, creative Catholics. The starting point here seems to have been the enormous charismatic covenant communities that began in the late 60's. Despite a well publicized break-up in the 80's, many former members of the communities still live in the area. Ave Maria radio, Renewal Ministries, Domino's Pizza, and Sacred Heart seminary are among the premier Catholic Institutions in the area. To give you an idea, one local Ann Arbor parish I visited has two houses of vocational discernment (one for men, one for women) - and it isn't the Newman center.)

Corpus Christi, Texas:
I've written about CC at glowing length here. Here the renewal began about 8 - 9 years ago with the emergence of a series of gifted evangelizers who have been given support and the freedom to be creative by their bishop. Several of the approaches that have had a huge impact are home-grown. This is a heavily Hispanic city but in a very bi-cultural way since many citizens are 3rd and 4th generation Latin immigrants so the divide between Anglos and Spanish speakers is greatly softened. Charismatically flavored evangelizing processes from Puerto Rico and Mexico are part of the mix.

Boise, Idaho:
Renewal began in Boise about 14 years ago when a particular evangelization process (called "the Evangelization Retreat") reached a couple major parishes in the city from a parish in California. Two years later, one of the parishes, Sacred Heart, came looking for help with discernment as the first question that newly awakened Catholics started to ask was "What does God want of me?" So the Called & Gifted process has played a significant role in Boise.

Denver area:
Here the catalyst was the 1993 World Youth Day. In the years since, Archbishop Chaput has invited a number of lay movements and other leaders to the city which has built upon the foundation laid 16 years previously.

(One of the things that I am just beginning to grasp is just how much of a Christian hot spot the Colorado Front Range area is. It isn't just Colorado Springs but the Denver area and the foothills and eastern side of the mountains are also brimming with fascinating Christian initiatives.

For those interested in some serious number crunching on why Catholics leave in the first place and some fascinating insights into the millions of "hidden" spiritual seekers in America, read Looking for God.

Any other areas in the US or elsewhere that you would consider to be a Catholic "hotspot"?


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