by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
For as long as I serve as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, when the publication dates coincide, I will be writing columns both for the readers of The Leaven in Northeast Kansas and the subscribers to the Catholic Key in Northwest Missouri. Hopefully, you will find it interesting to hear what is happening on both sides of State Line Road.
When I did media interviews with all the Kansas City metro major news outlets a few weeks ago, one reporter asked if I was concerned about how the Catholic Church was on the decline. She asked: Aren’t donations decreasing, the pews emptying, and the youth fleeing?
I responded initially by acknowledging that the Church faces great challenges, especially in Western Europe and an increasingly secularized United States. Nonetheless, world-wide, particularly in Africa and Asia, the Church is growing dramatically.
Even here in the United States, vocations to the priesthood are increasing. The fact that 13 young men – 9 in Missouri and 4 in Kansas – will be ordained in the KC metro area to the priesthood during the next six weeks is amazing.
As far as financial support for the Church, I confessed that I was not familiar with the data for Kansas City-St. Joseph, but in Kansas our annual archdiocesan campaign had doubled in a ten year period. Income for most parishes has also grown significantly during that time.
With regard to young people, I told her about the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) that began in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison with four “missionaries” – recent college graduates who committed to giving 2 years of their life to evangelize college students.
Seventeen years later FOCUS has 400 missionaries on 100 college campuses.
The first annual conference for FOCUS was held at Lake Perry, Kansas with less than 50 students and missionaries in attendance. In January of this year FOCUS held its national SEEK Conference in Nashville, Tennessee at the largest hotel in the country outside of Las Vegas. The almost 10,000 students and FOCUS missionaries were more than enthusiastic about their Catholic Faith. I wish this reporter could have seen these young adults joyfully participating in Mass, devoutly kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and lined up by the thousands for the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a Saturday night.
I told the reporter if my impression of the Catholic Church was based on what her station and other secular news outlets reported about the Church, I would share her pessimism. I invited her to follow me around for a day and witness all the good that is happening in our parishes, schools, and charitable ministries.
Recently, a man, who was not Catholic, nor even Christian, shared with me his experience of the Catholic Church. He had just in the last year relocated to the Kansas City area. Previously, he had lived in Atlanta.
Both he and his wife had serious medical conditions that almost bankrupted them. In the midst of their health woes, their house burnt down and their insurance company attempted to deny their claims. He said there were two groups that saved them during this nightmare – the St. Vincent De Paul Society and a Catholic Hospital. The man said “I want to help you tell that story. People need to know what the Catholic Church is doing every day.”
About a month ago, a man approached me who was in danger of being evicted from his home and his place of business. Again, catastrophic health issues largely had placed him in this precarious situation. He was a practicing Christian, but his Church was not able to help. Friends encouraged him to contact Catholic Charities. I was able to connect him with a Catholic Charities case-worker. When I saw him three weeks later he could not thank me enough for what the Catholic Church had done for him.
Does the Catholic Church in the United States today have great challenges? Absolutely! Is the Church dying? No way!
I am not surprised by the media’s frequent negative reporting about the Church. Their business is to get people to read newspapers or to watch television news. Sadly, controversy succeeds in gaining readership or viewership.
Ultimately, we cannot control how the media chooses to report about the Catholic Church. However, we can control the content and tone of the conversations about the Church in our homes, on the parish parking lots, in our work place, in the bleachers and over the backyard fences.
There is so much good happening in the Catholic community every day. It is a story that needs to be told. We all have a responsibility to tell it.