Monday, March 24, 2008

Into the Font, Into the Fold

Whenever the state of things 'round these parts gets too demoralizing -- and, really, when isn't it? -- everything's always better after hearing the latest from Down South... because coming away re-energized and with a fresh shot of hope always beats banging your head against a wall.

The joys of communion... works every time.

(For the record, said refills take place at least three times a week... more frequently of late... and anytime the phrase "$200 million" comes up in the local chatter.)

The spirit and verve that once made the Northeast the undisputed engine of the Stateside church -- and the envy of the world -- has now shifted, and dramatically so, to places like the Carolinas, Georgia, Utah, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Washington... as in "State." Parishes that were barely starting up a decade ago now count a thousand families and more, the pace of building and expansion efforts can't keep up, the ministry teams are practically getting their doors knocked down, flocks of shepherds are being imported to keep the folks well-served... and from packed pews, the people are investing much, much more into their church than just a weekly envelope in the basket.

On Easter Night in these places, RCIA classes of fifteen, thirty, fifty or more are no exception, but the norm. And the boom isn't just resplendent in living stones -- next week, the nation's fourth largest city finally gets a permanent home-base as the $65 million Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart opens its doors in Houston, the South's largest local church, where a mix of geographic and spiritual immigration has quadrupled the Catholic population to 1.5 million over the last three decades.
In the Lone Star state -- where the faithful recently overtook Evangelicals to become Texas' largest religious group -- the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the diocese of Dallas (its Catholic contingent grown five-fold to a million-plus since... 1990) each welcomed more than 2,000 catechumens and candidates into full communion at Saturday's Vigil.

From the Big D -- home of the K-Far -- the Dallas Morning News takes a look at the new faithful:
Matthew Parks was born Protestant and raised in an Assemblies of God church near Houston. By midnight tonight the 28-year-old will be Catholic....

Mr. Parks will be among 200 at St. Mark Catholic Church in Plano completing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. St. Mark and Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Garland this year have the highest number of catechumens – those who've completed preparations to join – a combined 500 adults and children, among the 74 parishes in the diocese's nine-county area.

"I don't want to put too much expectation on the event, but next to becoming sober, it will probably be the most exponential event of my life," Mr. Parks said. "It's really going to be an awesome experience. It's overwhelming to think about, to finally consume the Body of Christ."

Mr. Parks moved to Dallas a year ago after what he described as a "long problem with drug abuse," and began study of the Catholic faith after joining initiates at St. Mark. The initiation period is nine months to a year and culminates at Easter.

The Dallas convert count does appear to be significant. The Archdiocese of Detroit, for example, lists 589 catechumens and 497 from other Christian faiths receiving Communion; an additional 289 baptized Catholics are receiving sacraments.

The rise in conversions brings good news to the Dallas diocese after a recent study of religion in America showing that Catholicism has had the largest drop attributed to change of religion. Nearly one in three Americans were brought up Catholic; fewer than one in four now list Catholic as their religious affiliation, the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey showed.

"The Pew report has valid points. It does not apply to the experience in Dallas," said the Rev. Kevin Joseph Farrell, bishop of the Diocese of Dallas. "When I was in the Northeast, parishes were closing. The South, Southwest and West have the fastest-growing [Catholic] populations. Not just because of immigrants coming from the south who are already Catholic. Many are people who are returning to the church and folks moving here from the Northeast. We have a wave of immigrants and a wave of migrants."

New converts such as Guy Hollis, a Dallas-area irrigation specialist, embraced the idea in the name of family. The more he accompanied his wife, Chachi, to Sunday Mass, the more he became interested in her faith. He and their preschooler and toddler will be among the 300 entering Good Shepherd in Garland.
Two parishes. 500 converts. Priceless. And mind-blowing.

To all of our newest fellow-travelers, wherever you might be, the warmest of welcomes. Hopefully you heard this along the way, but this is your house as much as it is anyone else's, so make yourselves comfortable; you've already got the keys, grab whatever you want from the fridge, make as much noise as you want (we could use that), and company's always a treat. Bottom line: just be yourself, have fun, make this your home, and if there's anything the rest of us can help with or anything you ever simply find yourself curious about, just ask -- we're here to help... and we need you to help keep us honest and on our toes.

Seriously, thanks a million for making the trip. Hope it went smoothly -- you're already doing more for more folks than you might realize.

But no pressure -- we're all in this together... and together, as another among us likes to say, "let's go up to meet our destiny."