Sunday, April 13, 2008

On the Eve of Benedict's Arrival

~via Papa Ratzinger Forum, two articles that try to explain American Catholics. I'm getting ready for Mass, so charity demands that I refrain from commenting on the first.

From the Washington Post, a portrait of the American Church that highlights the dissonance between the Vatican and US Catholics. It's true enough that there are many "cafeteria Catholics" (too many, IMO). But this article makes it seem like the Church is changeable in that demographics will force the change.
Jose Casanova, a Georgetown University professor who specializes in religion and globalization, says there is a growing segment of American Catholics who are essentially developing their own, individualized religion, in tension with the hierarchy but vibrant and spiritual. He calls it "faithful dissent."

In a recent interview, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States, was asked about American values. Young people around the world sing, dance, eat and cultivate American-ness, Sambi told the National Catholic Reporter.

But, he said, "If you look carefully at all this, you see that what America is exporting throughout the world, especially to the youth of this world, is not always the most noble and constructive qualities America has to offer."

American Catholicism is being quickly Hispanicized, which is most obviously reflected in more charismatic worship in the pews and more interest in immigration and social welfare at the polls. More than a third of American Catholic adults, and half of Catholics under 40, are Latino. The infusion of Latino Catholicism is generally seen as a huge shot in the arm to the U.S. church.

At Nationals Park, Benedict will see Catholics representing growing immigrant populations of Salvadorans, Africans and Vietnamese. He'll hear four choirs sing in 10 languages, everything from Gregorian chants to gospel and jazz.

He'll be applauded by people such as Ray Flynn, former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican, who loves the idea of papal hierarchy because it means "people aren't out there freelancing, talking about their opinion of what the faith teaches. It makes us more unified."

And people such as Alex Alvarado, a 34-year-old Silver Spring waiter who is originally from El Salvador. Alvarado calls himself evangelical, and his regular congregation meets in different living rooms. When he came to this country in the 1980s, he says, " 'Catholic' meant something much more limited" -- more white.

But Benedict won't see people such as John Cecotti, a 68-year-old Bethesda management consultant who goes to Mass weekly. He respects the Pope the way he does the Dalai Lama, and he thinks that the Vatican is "a good old boys' club that needs a wake-up call" and that the church needs female and married priests.

Or Carrie Drummond, a 34-year-old animal adoption specialist from Alexandria who rarely goes to Church and "isn't a big fan of the Pope or church doctrine" but believes she understands and lives the essence of Catholicism: take care of other people.

"This Pope's idea that the Catholic faith is the one, or that other world religions don't have credibility?" she says. "Come on, we don't need to be limiting dialogue; we should be expanding it."
This line says it all, no?
A major, ongoing challenge for the American Church is how to reconcile the monarchial structure of Catholicism with democracy. As headlines from Nigeria and England scream about religious freedom and freedom of conscience, young Americans find it harder to accept certain aspects of the Catholic Church, some critics say.
Sigh! And the media cheer you on. This next one is from the Associated Press
Catholic leaders say any perception of Benedict as a mirthless scold is unfair — a hangover from his long tenure as head of the Vatican office that enforces orthodoxy. Bishops and others describe him as a shy, humble man with a keen sense of humor and a love of teaching. Long before he went to the Vatican, Benedict, a theologian, was a university professor.

The Rev. David M. O'Connell, president of the Catholic University of America, noted that John Paul emerged on the world scene at the relatively young age of 58 when he was elected pope. He eventually became a grandfather figure for the church as his pontificate stretched to 26 years.

Benedict was already 78 when he was elected in 2005, and has been perceived as a "wisdom figure" for Catholics from the start, O'Connell said.

"This pope, without in any way trying to be critical of his predecessor, has emphasized Jesus Christ, not the person of the pope, as critically significant," O'Connell said.

"The other pope used his personality to spread the Gospel and the Gospel message, and he did it very effectively. This pope knows he doesn't have a rock star personality and he's using what his greatest gifts are to get the message out there. And his greatest gifts are intellectual and pastoral."

Benedict has struggled against the tide of secularism, but may see the United States — which he visited five times as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — as a chance to gain ground.

In recently receiving the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, Benedict welcomed what he called the American people's "historic" appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public policy.

He used the occasion to condemn abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage, praising "the efforts of so many of your fellow citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death."

The visit would normally have taken place in October, when the General Assembly of the United Nations meets, but was moved up to avoid clashing with the last weeks of the U.S. presidential campaign.

Benedict will begin the trip with a visit with President George W. Bush at the White House. Like his predecessor, Benedict was sharply critical of the war in Iraq but shares with Bush a deep concern over the plight of Iraqi Christians.

The pope also will turn 81 while in the United States, and all American cardinals have been invited to a birthday lunch Wednesday at the Vatican embassy in Washington. Vatican aides say the pope is in good shape.

"I was struck, the Holy Father just seemed very much energized," Archbishop Wuerl said after meeting with Benedict in Rome before the trip. "His walk, his gait is impressive. You would never guess his age."

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters last Tuesday that Benedict has no plans to meet with any of the candidates. However, a host of politicians from both major parties may be on hand Wednesday when he visits the White House.

Benedict has warned Catholic politicians who must decide on such issues as abortion, euthanasia and marriage that the faith's values are "not negotiable."

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