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Monday, July 2, 2012

Catholicism in the South: Once a Strange Religion, Now Forging Ahead With Evangelical Fervor

I grew up in the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, spent twenty years in the Diocese of Arlington, then 10 years in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, and have been in the Diocese of Charleston since 2004.  As the following article suggests, the sense of being a minority and the challenge from the surrounding culture has made Catholicism in the South far more vibrant, and the South a far better place to transmit the Faith to children than are many far more established Catholic communities in the North.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers
The Archbishop of Newark, for example, seems to occupy himself with little other than the liquidation of a vast real estate network.  The major news story coming from his chancery offices each year is how many schools and parishes are to be closed.  And good luck trying to convince anyone that perhaps a little evangelical zeal, commitment to sound catechesis, reverent liturgy and prayer might actually renew the faithfful and fill churches.  His Excellency lives a princely life and he is not available to those who pay for it.  Exceptional parishes in the Newark Archdiocese that row against the current, and where the faith has always been alive and vibrant -- most notably the Polish parishes -- seem to encounter particular scorn and prejudice because their success embarrasses the rest.

It is not proud Archbishops who are renewing the Church in America, but rather holy priests and faith-filled Catholic communities in unlikely places like Arlington, Greenville and Charlotte.

A group of nuns stop at a gas station and ask for directions. A local woman asks for prayers. This scene would have been unimaginable 50 years ago.

The day after a newspaper in the small town of Shelby, N.C., reported that the Te Deum Foundation had acquired nearby land for a new Catholic seminary and monastery, a group of nuns in habits stopped at a local service station.

Fifty years ago — 10 years ago and, to some extent, even today — many Southerners regarded Catholics as unsaved and Catholicism as a non-Christian mystery religion.

But that day, everyone at the station greeted and welcomed the sisters. One woman even asked the nuns to pray for her injured nephew.

This acceptance marks a sea change in the Southern Baptist and evangelical Protestant-dominated South, where Catholics make up less than 10% of the population, compared with double-digit percentages in most northern states.

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