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A Novelty of God PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 22 March 2010 12:48
Many will be joinng us this coming Easter all over the world including 100 new Catholics in Thailand and their tale embodies a new global reality.

Among the hundred people who will receive the baptism April 3 there is also Lailuck Hasep, in charge of sales at a Thai company. Her conversion to Christianity, said the woman, which came about by following the example of her Catholic husband, has helped her live with greater confidence and trust even the workplace. . . Having attended the Mass with my husband - emphasizes the manager - and the homily of the priest, helped me find an answer to my questions."     

The woman also invited colleagues to follow the catechism classes and 20 of them (out of 30) have accepted the proposal. During Lent, she continues, we encourage each other to pray, fast, to live a better relationship with others. "At the Easter Vigil two of us will be baptized - she concludes - but we all have benefited from prayer" to improve their work and family life."


I love it.  Lailuck brought 20 of her co-workers to RCIA with her!  In every part of the world, the laity are becoming the key to evangelization and catechesis.

One factor is dramatic change.  Our biggest problem is not decline but success: the staggering growth in the number of Catholics.  (Here I'm using figures from 1978 and 2005 - the beginning and end of Pope John Paul's pontificate some of which I got from John Allen's The Future Church some from the US Bishop's summary and some from CARA.)

What the Vatican calls the "Workforce for the Church's Apostolate" grew tremendously between 1978 and 2005.  The "force" grew from 1.6 million to 4.3 million (169%) while the Catholic population grew 128% in the same time period from 752.5 million to 1,115 million.

Ten years ago, I would tell groups that bishops and priests made up .04% or 4/100th of 1% of the entire Catholic population.  In 2010, I have to say that bishops and priests only comprise .035%.  In 20 years, that figure will probably to fall under .03%

It isn't because the number of priests and seminarians aren't growing.  Although the number of the ordained (bishops, priests, deacons) grew from 413,169 to 444.402 during these 27 years, this increase was dwarfed by the demand created by relentless growth of the Catholic population.  The immense number of the baptized has called forth a major new "workforce" for the apostolate: the laity.

In 1978, the ordained made up 26% of the 1.6 million member "force". The largest group was religious women (nearly 60%) and lay people only constituted 10.8%.

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But by 2005, everything had changed.  In this greatly expanded workforce of 4.3 million, the ordained now made up only 10.33%, religious women 17.8% and lay men and women were the overwhelming majority at 71.2%.

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Which is what the small Catholic community of Thailand has found true.  "The sacrament is preformed during the Easter Vigil and in preparing converts the role of the laity is proving increasingly important, given that they "share the task of mission and evangelization."

"Mgr. Francis Xavier Vera Arpondratana, president of the Episcopal Commission for Catechesis, confirms a "lack of catechists in parishes." This is why the Archdiocese of Bangkok has sought to strengthen "the presence of the laity in the work of evangelization", by enhancing their formation so that they become full-time catechists.
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This is, I think, an example of what Pope Benedict called in his audience of March 10 a "novelty of God".  The Pope talked about a series of new movements in Christian history.  In the 19th century, God called forth a new missionary wave of active women religious who transformed the landscape of Catholicism.  The small armies of habited sisters in every parish that we think of as exceedingly traditional (ala The Bells of St. Mary's) are only about 130 years old.

The determination to create a new kind of Catholic by catechizing all children, which was produced by the crisis of the Reformation, demanded a whole new labor force. It came in the form of the new religious congregations of women and non-ordained men like the Christian Brothers.  When, in 1749, the Vatican changed its 500 year old insistence that women religious had to be enclosed, the stage was set for a transformation of the Church's life. By the late 19th century, the number of women religious outnumbered priests and male religious for the first time in history and utterly transformed the Catholic landscape.

In Ireland, for instance, there were only 120 women religious in 1800.  If you think of the total number of priests and sisters together as the Catholic "workforce", sisters only made up 6% of the total at the beginning of the 19th century.  By 1851, women religious made up 38% of the combined body of priests/nuns. By 1901, women religious were 70%.  In the US, there were 4 sisters for every priest by 1900.

In the early 21st century, God seems to be doing something new again to meet the needs of new generation. Millions of lay men and women are answering God's call to evangelize, form, and nurture the tens of millions of new Catholics that God is sending us every year.
 

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