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Africa: "Warts and All" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 18 March 2009 06:54
For those interested in Catholicism's future in Africa or the global south as a whole, John Allen's essay: "Africa in Minature: "Warts and All" Awaits Benedict is a must read.

The man is a treasure.
Skin Deep Catholicism? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 17 March 2009 21:46
A long time ago in a universe far, far away . . .

I was a brand new Catholic and grad student in Seattle, Washington and in those far-off, ante-deluvial days before I had heard of the internet - got my Catholics news through dead tree sources. One day I was infuriated by an article i saw in a major Catholic magazine that dismissed evangelical missionary efforts as mere "sects". My own memories of the extraordinary people I had known in that world were very fresh and I sat down and ripped off a furious letter to the editor. The letter was published in the next issue but I heard no more and assumed that it had fallen into the great Catholic ocean and disappeared without a trace. Eventually I forgot I had even written it.

I finished graduate school and began offering the early version of the Called & Gifted process in Seattle. One day, I was browsing a new book on evangelization and thumbing through it until I found a particularly passionate passage that I really liked and started to read out loud. I read through a whole paragraph before it dawned upon me that the words sounded strangely familiar. In a truly jaw-dropping moment, I realized that my long forgotten letter was being quoted by a presenter at a major conference on evangelism held in 1994 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The conference featured a who's who of Catholic evangelization: the then Fr. Avery Dulles, Ralph Martin, Fr. Tom Forrest, Fr. Kenneth Boyack, etc. And the African Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria, who had quoted my letter at length in the course of his presentation.

One of John Allen's pieces about the Pope's visit to Africa - How Benedict Needs to Show that He Gets Africa - reminded me of that letter and how some issues have apparently not changed in Africa.

Allen writes:

"Yet local observers say formation in the faith can sometimes be skin-deep, since many African Catholics fall back on indigenous beliefs in moments of crisis. They may go to Mass on Sunday, but then also consult a tribal shaman when a child is sick or a job has been lost. During a February 2007 symposium at the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya, experts warned that witchcraft is "destroying" the church in Africa, in part because skeptical, Western-educated clergy are not responding adequately to people's spiritual needs.

"We have to put that down to insufficient catechesis and insufficient inculturation," said Fr. Patrick Lafon, former secretary general of the bishops' conference in Cameroon and today a doctoral candidate at The Catholic University of America in Washington."

Hmmm. No doubt that it is part of the answer. Let me quote from my long-ago letter, published in "Evangelization in the Church of Jos, Nigeria", by Archbishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka, John Paul II and the New Evangelization, p. 106.

"Much of the signs and wonders approach associated with evangelical/pentecostal missions stems from the recognition of what, at the Fuller School of World MIssion (Now the School of Intercultural Studies), is called "The Excluded MIddle". The theory goes as follows: Western missionaries carried their rationalist and anti-supernaturalist cultural assumptions with them and went to peoples saturated with a worldview that incorporated minor deities, demons, curses, charisms and spells into daily life.

Western rationalism dismissed these beliefs as mere superstition and converted people to a worldview of a "high trinitarian God and a "low" strong personal code of behavior. The "middle" realm of demons and spells was never addressed, but it would not go away. These people had lived for many generations with the spiritual realities of the demonic, had seen people die of curses, and knew, whatever the missionary said, that these things were real. To deal with them, they turned once again to their traditional spiritual practices and the result was the various forms of Christ-paganism.

To fill this gap, some evangelical missionaries looked once again the early Church, and found in the experience of Pentecost and the healings, prophecies, and miracles of the Book of Acts, a Christian answer for the "excluded middle".
For more on this topic of the divide between classic western Christianity and the "new" charismatically influenced spirituality of the global south, go here.

In that same talk, Archbishop Ganaka tells the story of his archdiocese. How the first Catholic priests didn't reach Jos until 1907 and for several decades, missionary priests died without seeing any fruit.

" . . .in 1974, there were five indigenous priests, today (1994) there are 61; in 1974 there were six nuns, today there are 34; in 1974; there were seventeen parishes, today there are 46. Even though the Jos diocese continually opens new parishes, we are nevetheless overwhelmed by the number of new converts to Christianity. Today, the Catholic population in our diocese has risen to 515,000."

I am sure that today, 15 years later, the numbers have surged again.

But struggles remain. In late 2008, Jos experienced violent riots between Muslims and Christians in which over 400 died and thousands were made homeless.

Like us, many in Africa have had a real encounter with Christ, but it had not yet transformed us utterly yet. It has not begun to challenge our deepest fears, caused us to question deeply-rooted habits, or renounce cherished grievances. We need to experience "power evangelization" at the deepest roots of our being.

I am often reminded of C. S. Lewis' telling observation in the Screwtape Letters; "if I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention? You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwoord, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won't come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet."

How it that that always feel so true, no matter how many years have passed?
Easter Joy in Malawi PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 16 March 2009 16:56
I'd like to re-post this exuberant Easter Mass from Malawi as well. To help us all get into mood:

Malawi Poor Clares: A Window on African Catholicism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 16 March 2009 16:42
I just stumbled across a stunning video of Malawi Poor Clares singing and dancing in their chapel. Once you get used to the non-western musical scale, the grace of it is mesmerizing. There is translation of words into English with an Irish lilt. Perfect for the eve of St. Paddy's Day and the eve of Pope Benedict's trip.

A remarkable window into the world of African Catholicism. Unfortunately, the embedding is disabled, ">but please watch it here.

You don't get more Catholic than Poor Clares but this isn't what comes to mind when I think of Poor Clares.

It reminds of something I read last night about the cultural struggle between the French novices and their Spanish superiors in the first Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris in 1604. The French found the habits of the Spanish nuns, some of whom had been mentored by Teresa of Avila herself, odd and excessive.

For instance, the Spanish nuns found nothing odd about bringing their spindles into the recitation of the office and into Mass because for them to have their hands busy while their minds were absorbed in prayer seemed normal. And the Spanish nuns liked to cry and sing aloud to express their love of Christ which irritated their French sisters who found it exaggerated.

Oh for the days when the biggest cultural gap in the Church was between the French and the Spanish . . .
The African Century? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 16 March 2009 09:26
In honor of the Holy Father's visit to Africa this week and in light of the many blog and MS articles on the topic of Christianity in Africa that are already being published, and the inevitable concerns about evangelical missionary expansion, I thought I'd put together a little back-grounder. My figures come largely from the Center for Global Christianity and also from the research I did three years ago for my article on Independent Christianity.

As John Allen and many others have pointed out, the growth of Christianity in Africa is staggering. There were only 4.3 million Christians in Africa in 1800. 209 years later, those 4 million have multiplied 103 times to 437.3 million out of a total population of nearly 1 billion. By 2025, it is estimated that Christians in Africa will number 663 million and that Africa will be on the verge of becoming a majority Christian continent.

The annual growth rate of African Christianity is the highest of any religious community on the planet: 2.59% per year. There are approximately 32,000 new African Christians every 24 hours.

What is interesting is that the growth of Asian Christianity is a close second at 2.48% per year. There are about 25,000 new Asian Christians every 24 hours. (To put this into perspective, the global growth of Islam is 1.75% per year.)

Europe, as we know, is another story.

In 1800, 84% of all Christians in the world were European. Then came the great missionary expansion of the 19th century when Christianity grew from 22.7% of the world's population to 34.5% in a single century. By 1900, the European share of Christendom has shrunk to 66%. And now 9 years into the 21st century, European Christians are 44.3% of the whole.

Christian growth there is on the verge of becoming negative (0.12% pa currently). It is estimated that, for the first time, there will be fewer Christians in Europe in 2025 than today. Fewer Christians in Europe in 2025 than in Africa or South America. In 2025, even Asian Christianity will be on the verge of overtaking Europe. Even as I write this, Latin Christians number only 2.5 million less than European Christians. They will overtake the old world in the next year or two.

In 16 years - by 2025 - it is estimated that European Christians will make up just under 20% of Christendom. A near total reversal in 225 years.

As I have been told by those who have worked extensively in Africa, Christianity there is a mile wide and a half inch deep. There is a tremendous need for formation in the faith and the fostering of genuine discipleship.

So it is most fitting and necessary that the Holy Father visit the continent that is going to lead the Christian world in the 21st century in some very important ways.
Number Crunching PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 14 March 2009 08:09
Every once in a while, I go on a binge of number crunching - usually to try and shed some light on an issue that has been niggling at me for some time.

And I see new things: some of which are very cool and some of which are concerning.

First of all - the sheer growth of Catholicism since 1800 is mind-boggling.

Globally (from the Center for Global Christianity)

1800: 106.4 million
1900: 266.6 million
1970: 665.9 million
2000: 1,046.6 million
2009: 1,134.6 million
2025: 1,317 million (estimate)

Reminds me of St. Francis Xavier writing about how he was so tired from baptizing in India that he could no longer raise his hands. Talk about repetitive motion! 1.2 billion baptisms in 225 years.

And here's a stunner: The estimate for new Catholics every 24 hours? 28,000. Despite all this, Catholic growth (.9%) is currently slightly below that of the global population (1.0%).

There is a similar trajectory for the US Catholics: (

1790: 30,000
1830: 600,000
1850: 1,750,000 (nearly 1 million of which were Irish immigrants who flooded what had been an essentially Francophone church)

Interesting note: 700,000 Americans converted to Catholicism during the 19th century. In 1852, for instance, 50 Episcopalian parishes and one rector entered, influenced by the Oxford Movement.

By 1965, there were 46.5 million Catholics in the US (CARA)

The number of priests had also grown accordingly

1820: 150 priests in the country
1850 1,081
1880 6,000
1900 11,987 (Then came the really big leap in the 20th century)
1945 38,451
1965 58,632 (Note the staggering 20+k increase in 20 years. There are some indicators that some of this rise was precipitated by the trauma of world war and all that followed - the revelations about the extent of the holocaust, the cold war, etc. The sort of stuff that makes you rethink what you want your life to be about)

1975 58,909 (the actual high water mark)

The number of priests didn't plummet immediately after the Council. Nearly 1,000 men were ordained in 1965 and 771 ten years later. So the overall numbers continued to creep upwards despite the men who were leaving. The number of ordinations actually slowed fairly gradually. The big drop in the first ten years after the Council was in seminarians (36.6% drop) and religious women (24.9% drop). What I'm not sure about is to what extent the drop in seminarian numbers represents the disappearance of minor seminaries.

In 1965, the priest/Catholic ratio in the US was about 1:777. (Here I'm using the figures from CARA)

To grasp the significance of our US experience, it helps to compare our situation to the situation in global Catholicism around the same time:

In 1970: The global priest/Catholic ratio was 1:1,557, 20.6% of the parishes in the world were without a priest-pastor, and priests made up 0.064% of the Catholic population.

Clearly, our situation was not the norm even then.

Today, as we all know, the number of priests in the US has dropped significantly:

2008: 40,580 priests for a population of 64.1 million Catholics (1: 1,580 priest/lay ratio)

But we should also notice that the global situation has shown a similar trend:

2005: 406,411 priests for a global population of 1,115 million. That's 2,744 Catholics/priest. 24.1% of all parishes in the world (52,509 parishes) are without a resident priest-pastor. If you divide the 2005 Catholic population by the total number of parishes (217,616 - aren't these numbers astounding?), you get a theoretical average of 5,124 Catholics per parish.

52,509 parishes with an average of 5,124 Catholics per parish don't have resident pastors. That's about 270 million Catholics. If they were a country, they would be the fourth largest in the world, right after the US.

The really surprising good news (that I've almost never heard talked about) is that the numbers of graduate level seminarians really grew during Pope John Paul Ii's pontificate: from a low of 33,731 in 1980 to 58,538 in 2005. A 73.6% increase! (Again, this is from CARA)

And the number of diocesan priests ordained between 1980 and 2005 grew almost as fast! (from 3,860 in 1980 to 6,614 in 2005 for a 71.3% rise)

And finally, the overall priestly numbers in the world have begun to budge: from a low in 1990 of 403,173 to 406,411 in 2005. The large increase in seminarians would seem to indicate that this rise will continue.

But we need to understand that what many American Catholics had taken as permanently normative - our situation in 1965 - was an exception both in our own history and in the history of the world. And one of the biggest factors is not the changes in the liturgy or discipline or catechesis or ecumenism or any of the things that we tend to spend our time on around St Blogs. One of the biggest factors is sheer demographics.

The Catholic Church - indeed, no Christian body on the planet or in history - has ever experienced the weight of these kinds of numbers before. No Catholic dioceses were responsible for millions of Catholics before the 20th century.

Which is why I am hearing diocesan leaders frankly admit that they hope that most lapsed Catholics don't return home. Because the parish and diocesan structures can barely deal with the numbers who are already practicing. If the 60% who aren't practicing were to return, we couldn't even provide the basic sacraments for that many, much less catechesis, sacramental prep, RCIA, and the other sorts of supports that we now consider normative. Not as we are structured now.

The culprit is not doctrine or catechesis or liturgy. "The culprit" is success: better health care, better food, better water, the elimination of certain epidemics, lower infant mortality, and longer life spans.

The basics of our current ecclesiology and pastoral strategy was worked out in a Europe that hadn't yet recovered its numbers from the eruption of the plague 250 years previously. Paris, the largest and most glamorous city in Europe in 1600 (and one of the most intensely Catholic on earth) only had 200,000 - 250,000 inhabitants. Tops. 20% of the population had died in the siege of Paris in 1590.

To have the same proportion of priests in the world today as Americans enjoyed in 1965, we would need 1.4 million priests. A 350% increase. And to get a 350% increase in ordained priests, we would probably need a global increase in seminarians that was double that: 700%. Not 70%. And we aren't even remotely set up to facilitate the 1000+% increase in dealing with inquiries that a 700% rise in seminarians would entail. We couldn't even begin to return the phone calls.

This is the point where, with wearying regularity, some readers will be sure that my "agenda" is about to be revealed. I must have one: ordaining married men or women or elevating lay people into pastors or whatever. Because otherwise, why would I be focusing on these depressing statistics?

I couldn't just want to have a clearer sense of the real life situation we are facing, I couldn't actually think that the first step in solving any problem is being clear about what the problem actually is. I couldn't actually think the situation is really complex and that real solutions would be multi-faceted. I couldn't really believe that there is no one silver bullet, I couldn't be genuinely open to the possibility that God might have solutions for us that transcend our current culture war sound bites, categories, and recent experience. I could not just be wondering, praying, pondering.

Well, of course, I could. But what fun would that be?
This is the "Bad Joke" part PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 13 March 2009 16:24
Really, really bad Catholic humor - from a non-Catholic. My sister Becky in Anchorage:

I'm sure it qualifies as Lenten penance:

"Two priests died at the same time and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter said, "I'd like to get you guys in now, but our computer's down. You'll have to go back to Earth for about a week, but you can't go back as priests. What'll it be?"

The first priest says, "I've always wanted to be an eagle, soaring above the Rocky mountains ."

"So be it," says St. Peter, and off flies the first priest.

The second priest mulls this over for a moment and asks, "Will any of this week 'count', St. Peter?"

"No, I told you the computer's down. There's no way we can keep track of what you're doing."

"In that case," says the second priest, "I've always wanted to be a stud."

"So be it" says St. Peter, and the second priest disappears.

A week goes by, the computer is fixed, and the Lord tells St. Peter to recall the two priests. "Will you have any trouble locating them?" He asks.

"The first one should be easy," says St. Peter. "He's somewhere over the Rockies , flying with the eagles. But the second one could prove to be more difficult."

"Why?" asketh the Lord.

"He's on a snow tire, somewhere in Alaska."

St. Patrick's Breastplate PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 13 March 2009 10:07
With St. Paddy's Day approaching, I thought I would post one version of the traditional St. Patrick's Breastplate. This prayer is traditionally attributed to the saint himself but was probably written several hundred years later in the 8th century,

Here it is sung in Gaelic by Moya Brennan

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today through the strength of Heaven
the rays of the sun,
the radiance of the moon,
the splendor of fire,
the speed of lightening,
the swiftness of the wind,
the depth of the sea,
the stability of the earth
the firmness of rock.

I arise today through the power of God:
God's might to comfort me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to lead me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's Heavenly Host to save me
from the snares of the devil,
from temptations to sin,
from all who wish me ill,
from near and afar,
alone and with others.
May Christ shield me today
against poison and fire,
against drowning and wounding,
so that I may fulfill my mission
and bear fruit in abundance.

Christ behind and before me,
Christ behind and above me,
Christ with me and in me,
Christ around and about me,
Christ on my right and on my left,
Christ when I lie down at night,
Christ when I rise in the morning,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone that speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Evangelizing the campus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 13 March 2009 07:23
This looks like a wonderful creative initiative: Substantially Catholic

It is a summer program for faculty at Catholic or non-Catholic universities and colleges that exposes them to the Catholic intellectual tradition in their field. From their website:

SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminars take a thematic approach in considering the Catholic intellectual contribution in particular academic disciplines.

English literature and philosophy/psychology are the featured disciplines for the 2009 SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminar.

Participation is open to all faculty members seeking to enhance their knowledge of Catholic content and approaches in any of these fields. The numbers of participants in each of the disciplinary tracks will be limited in size to assure that presenters are accessible to the participants.

The SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminar has a distinctive and decidedly practical goal – to help faculty members integrate the Catholic material presented at the seminar into their teaching repertoire in the immediately following academic year.


File this under evangelizing campus culture.
Awake O Sleeper! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 12 March 2009 18:08
Interviews done. The one this morning for WDEO (Ave Maria radio) in Ann Arbor with Teresa Tomeo was especially fun. But the early mornings began to accumulate (cause I get up at 5 am to prepare and make sure that I'm clear-headed). Awake O Sleeper! cries the ancient homily for Holy Saturday.

And, oh my - I would love to be able to attend this most wonderfully Lenten of events at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology (Classroom 1) in Berkley on Thursday March 26 from 2 - 3:30 pm. (The site actually says 2 - 3:30 am but not even Fr. Michael Sweeney, the ultimate night owl, is usually up at that hour)

Why did it take the Resurrection to save us?

"Without the bodily Resurrection of Christ, Christianity would not exist, and where this article of faith is diminished – by condescendingly referring, for instance, to Resurrection “experiences” – faith itself slowly dissolves or degenerates into some form of Gnosticism. The antidote to this and the key to rediscovering the world-transforming meaning of the Resurrection is to recognize its Trinitarian backdrop, and for that we will turn to the Holy Saturday theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar."

The Emmaus Road Initiative presentations are made by Gil Bailie, an author, lecturer, and the founder and president of The Cornerstone Forum.

I have had a tremendous devotion to Holy Saturday and the wonderful eastern icons of the "Scouring of Hell" since before I was Catholic.

This image just bowled me over when I first saw it during a tour of a Greek Orthodox Church at a local Greek festival in Seattle.

But then redemption - that is, subjective redemption - the work of Christ's redemption through which the power of sin, death and Satan is really broken in our individual and communal lives, the work in which you and I are privileged to participate in time and space, the purposes for which we have been given charisms and vocations, has always been the spiritual center for me.

I identify with Jairus's daughter, raised from the dead. I identify with the woman who had had an unstoppable hemorrhage for 12 years until she pushed through the crowd, and, miracle of miracles, was able to touch Jesus' clothes. I identify with the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Her sins are forgiven her because she loved much.

"Who touched me?" I'd like to answer "Sherry of the Redemption."

Awake O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
Radio Girl PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 10 March 2009 14:40
That's me.

(Really. Cut my radio teeth as a junior in high school and then worked my way through my senior year as an undergrad doing news and the afternoon classical music show on the Seattle NPR affiliate. I didn't make much but it did beat waiting tables.)

'Cause Evangelizing Post-Modern Catholics is turning out to be a hot topic. Amy Welborn is having a related discussion on her new blog over at Beliefnet today.

Anyway, on Wednesday at 6:50 am Mountain Time/8:50 Eastern time, I'll be joining Brian Patrick on the Son Rise Morning Show on EWTN

On Thursday at 6:35 am Mountain Time/8:35 Eastern time, I'll be on WDEO (Ave Maria radio) in Ann Arbor, MI talking about the upcoming Lessons from St. Paul For the New Evangelization conference on March 21, where my major presentation will be "Do Ask, Do Tell: Evangelizing Post-Modern Catholics." (And I'm also doing break-outs on the discernment of charisms.)

(How come all the major Catholic stations are in the eastern time zone which means I have to be attempt coherent thought way too early in the morning? I remember how difficult it was in the old radio days to get my mouth to form words at 6 am.)

And all these talks are just tiny bits and pieces from our Making Disciples seminar running July 26-30 in beautiful Colorado Springs!
The Post-Modern God: "Personal Hobby", "Fashion Statement", or "None"? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 March 2009 11:46
The USA Today article on the decline in American faith is going to have a lot of people talking this week.

It is a long, rich article pulling from many sources and worth a careful read. Points that stood out when I read it:

The "Nones" are both growing and migrating. New England has actually overtaken the Pacific Northwest as the center of "None" land. 34% of Vermonters claim no religious affiliation when asked.

And this:

"Kosmin concluded from the 1990 data that many saw God as a "personal hobby," and that the USA is "a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts."

Today, he says, "religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many."


And this telling vignette:

"Ex-Catholic Dylan Rossi, 21, a philosophy student in Boston and a Massachusetts native, is part of the sharp fall in the state's percentage of Catholics — from 54% to 39% in his lifetime.

Rossi says he's typical among his friends: "If religion comes up, everyone at the table will start mocking it. I don't know anyone religious and hardly anyone 'spiritual.'

We cannot simply try to resurrect old style early 20th century American cultural Catholicism in the 21st century. The cultural bridges to that world have been swept away by forces far beyond the Second Vatican Council. The vast majority of Catholics under the age of 65 are deeply post-modern in their understanding of life. We can't recreate the past. We can't get there from here.

We have to start again from the beginning, as the Church has done very effectively many times before, and ask "What does Gospel of Jesus Christ, how does the Catholic faith, speak to this generation, to this culture, to this person before me?

If this kind of thing peaks your interest, consider coming to Making Disciples in Colorado Springs this July 26 - 30 where we'll spend 4 days together wrestling with just one thing: How to proclaim Christ to 21st century post-modern Catholics.
The State of Catholicism in Vietnam PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 March 2009 10:52
From Vietnam comes an article about the state of Catholicism that sounds so familiar. Such challenges and concerns aren't just for western Christians anymore. (Via VietCatholic News)

The Archdiocese of Saigon has concluded that the percentage of Vietnam's population that is Catholic has dipped slightly over the past 60 years: from 7.5% to 7.15%

Initially I found it surprising that the Vietnamese Church has responded with such alarm to a relatively small decline. This report is very much at odds with the tone of a much more positive 2006 Christian Science Monitor article:

"Today, his 19th-century cathedral is packed with worshippers on Sundays, and Catholic seminaries are expanding. New churches are mushrooming in this corner of northern Vietnam where Catholicism has sunk deep roots. Fr. Phuc is amazed at the rapid growth. "In the past 10 years, almost every year a new church is built. I can't keep track," he says."


"Of the six official religions recognized by Vietnam, Catholicism ranks second behind Buddhism. It has between 5 million and 7 million followers, concentrated mostly in the south, and is reportedly becoming more popular among young urban Vietnamese who are enjoying the fruits of the country's rapid economic growth."

The other shoe dropped when I read further in the VietCatholic piece:

"while the rate of Catholic population in Vietnam has decreased within the last 50 years, other Christian denominations have enjoyed a surge in people joining their churches. In 1999, these denominations had 400,000 members. This number has quadrupled to 1,500,000 in 2008 according the latest report."

“These figures are a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of the Church’s mission in Vietnam during the last 50 years,” Fr. Anthony Nguyen lamented.

There's the sting. Historically, Christianity in Vietnam has basically meant Catholicism. (The modern Vietnamese alphabet was created by a Jesuit missionary.) A 400% growth in non-Catholic Christianity over the past 10 years while Catholic numbers are very slowly declining is a bit of a shock. The non-Catholics seem to be the usual mixture of evangelical and independent congregations, many meeting in unofficial house churches.

The Archdiocese of Saigon also comments on:

"the alarming rate of adult converts who do not keep on practicing their faith after their baptism. Within the past 7 years, there have been approximately 35,000 adult conversions to Catholicism annually, 80-90% of these through marriage. Unfortunately, the number of converts through marriage who remain active in practicing their religion gone down dramatically due to complications many people have to face after converting to Catholicism such as losing privileges and promotions at certain jobs, or facing subtle discrimination from the atheist government."


"the indifferent attitude towards the missionary duty among the faithful has been noticeable. Many assume that the clergy is solely responsible for evangelization, not lay people. In addition, many Catholics have not been living their lives to bear witness to Christ and to make Him known to all those who have not yet received the Gospel message. Their personal and religious lives have not made any good impression on their non-Catholic neighbors and friends."


"the indifferent attitude towards the missionary duty among the faithful has been noticeable. Many assume that the clergy is solely responsible for evangelization, not lay people. In addition, many Catholics have not been living their lives to bear witness to Christ and to make Him known to all those who have not yet received the Gospel message. Their personal and religious lives have not made any good impression on their non-Catholic neighbors and friends."

And the article ends with this most prescient summary:

"Among all aspects, Christology is the one that has received most attention, since the decisive element of every Christian life lies in the response that must be given to the question Christ asked: "Who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). Without a correct understanding of the person of Christ, of His nature, of His significance and of His message addressed to the human race, Christianity lacks authenticity."
In Your Neck of the Woods This Week . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 March 2009 10:29
If you are in the Corvallis, Oregon area this week, Fr. Mike is putting on a 3 evenings-in-a-row Called & Gifted workshop that begins tonight.

If you live in the Riverside, California area, you can take in the weekend version of the Called & Gifted this coming Friday and Saturday, March 13 & 14.

And if you live near Omaha, you can attend Fr. Mike's Lenten mission March 16 - 18 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

This is the kind of post I like. All kinds of great stuff is happening without me lifting a finger.

How great is that?
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