We got an inkling of “things to come” with the election of a Pope Francis. Much fanfare was made of the fact that he is the first pope not from Europe in something like a thousand years. It’s a big deal that Jorge Bergoglio is from the “Global South”. Some of us remember the 1978 election of John Paul II as the first non-Italian pope in something like 600 years! My numbers may be off, but you get the point. As with everything else, times are changing dramatically and certainly aren’t what they used to be!
But are we still just tinkering with superficials? Has our new reality truly sunk into our bones? Francis is still a first-generation Argentine born to Italian immigrant parents. He looks and speaks like he belongs in Rome. Similarly, it is easy for me to go to Christ the King in Minneapolis and be proud to see an African-American man among the Eucharistic Ministers or two or three kids of color among a flood of white in the “Children’s Liturgy of the Word.” I can just as smugly feel content with how “progressive” we are in south Minneapolis. Despite the election of the first pope from the Americas and the objective fact that our parish truly is exemplary in its faith-justice ministry and populated with bright, generous, committed people of faith it is easy to remain oblivious to a bigger reality.
John L. Allen, Jr. writer for the Boston Globe (recently from National Catholic Reporter) grabbed my attention with a current article titled: Catholicism growing in heart of the Muslim world. Here is a sample of what he reports:
The typical Christian in the world today isn’t a middle-class white male in Dubuque pulling up to church in his Lincoln Continental. She is an impoverished black mother of four in Nigeria, or a Dalit grandmother in India, or an exploited Filipina maid in Saudi Arabia. They often face hardships that are hard for most American Christians, accustomed to material comfort and lacking any real experience of religious persecution, to fathom.
Whoa! Despite the “progress” represented with a pope from someplace other than Europe and more serious discussion of changing demographics, my lived experience simply is not consistent with, nor am I really cognizant of, the reality of the church in which I claim to find my home.
Allen cites evidence that flies in the face of conventional wisdom: Catholicism in the early 21st century is growing by leaps and bounds in the heart of the Muslim world. Acknowledging that Christians are fleeing the Middle East in droves – Christians now make up only 5 percent of the region’s population, down from 20 percent a century ago – the Arabian Peninsula is seeing one of the most dramatic Catholic growth rates anywhere in the world.
The expansion is being driven not by Arab converts, but by foreign ex-pats whom the region increasingly relies on for manual labor and domestic service. Allen notes that Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Koreans, and members of other nationalities are becoming the new working poor in some of the world’s wealthiest societies. Allen incisively observes:
Despite the triple handicaps of being poor, lacking citizenship rights, and belonging to a religious minority often viewed with suspicion, these folks are trying to put down roots for the faith, and having some surprising success.
Isn’t that the way it’s really been from the beginning? Isn’t there compelling evidence throughout church history to suggest this is the way the Spirit of God typically works? Does this not give fresh impetus to the passage Pope Francis proposed for his Lenten exhortation: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2 Cor 8:9)
What is a Catholic Christian from Dubuque – or Minneapolis – to do?
You may read John Allen’s Boston Globe article at: http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2014/03/08/catholicism-growing-heart-muslim-world/LxIiUYwSlro7Zl6ugvVQJM/story.html