Seeing the true Church means
looking beyond our borders
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
Only six percent of the world’s Catholics live in the United States, therefore to “try to understand the global Catholic Church through the U.S. prism, doesn’t do justice to who we are.”
According to Senior CNN Vatican Analyst John Allen, Jr., who spoke at the recent Stewardship Conference, it’s important to peer through the fog that obscures our vision of the global Church. We can do this, in part, by taking a closer look at our new pope.
Allen, who was reared in Hays, spoke on “Pope Francis and Trends in the Global Catholic Church” at the Aug. 24 gathering at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Allen has travelled with a succession of popes, and has been termed (by the London Tablet) as “the most authoritative writer on Vatican affairs….” “When seen close up,” he said, “the Vatican reveals itself in all its complexity.”
In beginning his discussion of the global Church, he first brought to light the new pontiff. At the recent World Youth Day celebration in Rio, Allen said he saw women religious “acting like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert. He’s a charismatic pope who has taken the world by storm….”
To understand Pope Francis and where he is leading the Catholic Church, it’s important to begin to understand where he comes from.
“He is the first pope from the new world, and he brings with him much of an agenda of the developing world.”
The developing world today accounts for two-thirds of the Catholic population. A century ago, it was the west that accounted for the two-thirds majority. By 2050, three-fourths of the Catholics in the world will reside in the global south.
According to the International Society of Human Rights, 80 percent of Religious persecution is against Christians, and 139 countries have Christians who face persecution.
“Each year over the last 10 years, 100,000 Christians have been killed due to their faith. It’s the greatest Christian story ever told. If you want a concrete example, look at Egypt. The Islamist forces have a two-fold agenda: take over, and get rid of the Christian presence.”
It might be understandable why the Church is concerned that “one of the big mega trends is the rise of religious freedom as the signature social concern of the 20th Century. These struggles are real and growing in intensity.
“Threats to religious freedom in the United States means we might get sued. In other places, it means you might get shot.”
And it also becomes more evident as to why the Church stages such strong vitriol when it comes to the oppressed, whether it’s an immigrant trying to get into the United States, or one of more than 400,000 Christians fighting to stay alive in Iraq.
“If we American Catholics had invested one-tenth of the time and treasure put into saying, ‘And with your spirit,’ into creating solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iraq, we would have changed the world.
“No pope can be expected to shoulder these burdens by himself. The heart of the matter is [that we all] go forth and make disciples of all nations.”
Allen made a surprise pronouncement at the conclusion of his keynote address about the value of having a good sense of humor, especially when dealing with such serious subjects. After writing a book about Pope Benedict XVI in which he analyzed the Holy Father’s role as pontiff and suggested the direction the Church was heading at that time, Allen admitted being nervous about having Pope Benedict review his book.
“We were in Graham County, Kansas,” Allen said. “There we are in Hill City and my cell phone goes off. It was the Vatican.”
He answered the phone and was told by a Vatican spokesman that then Pope Benedict XVI wished to relay a message to him: “Please thank ‘Heir Allen’ for writing this book. Particularly the last part, because it keeps me from having to think about the future myself.”
“As Catholics, we must value humor,” he said.