The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Change and More Change

Change, surprisingly rapid change, seems to define our world today. No aspect of human activity is immune, including religion. Events and movements within religion, however, often fly well below the mainstream media's radar because they are mistakenly believed to be unimportant. I suppose one cannot expect irreligious people to take religion very seriously, although such an attitude displays real ignorance of both human history and human nature. But when religion is discounted by the media and given little intelligent coverage, the general public is shortchanged. Even when the secular media covers religious news, they tend to cover it as they would political news; consequently they usually get the story wrong.  More often, however, religious news is simply ignored.

Here are a few items that reflect some significant changes that may have escaped the notice of most media outlets. 

The Changing Face of Anglicanism. In his blog Fr. Dwight Longenecker gives a brief overview of some of the remarkable changes that have occurred within the diverse Anglican community in recent years. Fr. Longenecker, an American Catholic priest, knows of what he speaks. Brought up in an Evangelical home, he followed an atypical path on his personal religious pilgrimage. A graduate of fundamentalist Bob Jones University, he went on to study theology at Oxford and was subsequently ordained an Anglican priest. After serving many years as an Anglican cleric in England, he and his family converted to Catholicism in 1995. He now lives in South Carolina. You can read Fr. Longenecker's conversion story here.

Growth of Catholicism in Asia and Africa. Few Western Catholics are aware of the rapid growth of the Church in both Asia and Africa. As the faithful in Western Europe shrink to record small levels, their numbers worldwide have grown remarkably. That this growth is unremarked in the U.S. and Europe just highlights the parochialism of many Western Catholics. This growth, though, has been increasingly hard to ignore as more and more priests from Asia and Africa are recruited by our bishops to work as pastors and parochial vicars in American parishes. Not too long ago the Church in America was a major source of missionary priests to the less developed world; now that world sends missionaries to us. Indeed, my pastor is originally from the Philippines and the priest who serves as chaplain in the nearby federal prison, and who lives in our parish, is from Nigeria. Yes, the Catholic Church us truly catholic. (To get a good sense of the growth of the Church in Asia and Africa, read this synopsis of the statistics published in the 2013 Pontifical Yearbook.)

Cardinal Yeom
The Church in South Korea. South Korea is a largely secular Asian nation in which Catholics make up only 11% of the population. But the Church there is growing in both numbers and stature. Pope Francis' recent elevation of Seoul's Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung as the nation's first cardinal was warmly welcomed by all Koreans as was the Vatican's announcement approving the martyrdom of 124 Koreans who were executed for their faith during the 18th and 19th centuries. We can expect to hear more about these brave men and women as the beatification process continues. I also believe we will be hearing much more about the growing Church in South Korea in the years to come. Just this month 38 new priests were ordained in the Seoul Archdiocese, so don't be surprised if one day a South Korean priest shows up at your parish.

The Disappearing Christians of Iraq. Most of us in the West believe Iraq is a marginally better place since the overthrow and death of Saddam Hussein. But for the Christians of Iraq, those few who remain, nothing could be further from the truth. Few people outside Iraq realize that the nation once boasted an active and vibrant Christian community that represented over 10% of the population and worshiped in hundreds of churches throughout the country. Christians now make up only about 1% of the Iraqi population -- a number that's dwindling rapidly -- and worship in only a few dozen churches. In the spirit of ecumenism, I suggest you read this article published on the website of First Things magazine: The Vicar of Baghdad. It tells the remarkable story of Canon Andrew White, a courageous Anglican priest who ministers to the Christians of Iraq. It's a story you won't read in the New York Times.

Egyptian Catholic Reaction to Our President. Here's another story you won't read in our secular media. Last year during the chaos surrounding the removal from office of President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood reacted by attacking Christian churches, businesses and homes throughout the nation. Egyptian Christians hadn't suffered such persecution in centuries. In the midst of these open and violent attacks on the nation's Christian community, President Obama called for the to return to power of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies. In response, Fr. Rafic Antoine Greiche, the head of the Press Office of the Catholic Church in Egypt, released a scathing criticism of President Obama. You can view a video of Fr. Greiche below: 

Don't rely on the mainstream media for news on religious matters, and especially for news on the Catholic Church.

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