Damaŕis Drōhin de Arriéta, a catechumen from St. Dennis Parish in Madison, accompanied by her sponsor, Cheryl Jatczak, is greeted by Bishop Robert C. Morlino during the presentation of the elect at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion held February 26 at St. John the Baptist Church, Waunakee. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)
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WAUNAKEE -- One of the common myths of our time is that the Catholic Church is on the decline: that the faithful are a dwindling minority, becoming more and more irrelevant.
But when one attends a celebration such as the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, held in the Diocese of Madison on February 26 at St. John the Baptist Church in Waunakee, the joy and determination of the people who have come seeking to join the Catholic Church make that myth seem absurd.
More than 180 candidates and catechumens were presented at the rite, marking their intention to celebrate one or more of the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confirmation) at the Easter Vigil, April 7 this year. Each were accompanied by sponsors — Catholics ready to help them grow in their faith — and many of the priests and faithful of the diocese were present to witness these catechumens and candidates in this step on their journey.
This number is a small increase over last year, which had also seen more candidates and catechumens than the previous year. And while the gains are perhaps modest, they demonstrate that our Church is not stagnant but is renewing itself through God’s gift of the faith and missionary spirit of its members.
Building the Church
Though the numbers of Catholic faithful are declining in some areas, such as in Europe and the United States, the Church is seeing an increase throughout the world. In the 20th century, for instance, the Catholic population grew from 266 million to about one billion, and in eight years following the turn of the century further grew to nearly 1.7 billion.
It is true that numbers of priests and religious have declined since their heyday midcentury, but since the mid-90s most of these vocations have been increasing steadily. As well, the numbers of Catholics are, for the most part, remaining fairly steady as a percentage of the overall growth of the world population, if not slightly increasing.
What these statistics cannot show, of course, is the energy and life of the Church and her people.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2011 pre-Christmas address to the curia, spoke of recent events such as World Youth Day and his trip to Benin, Africa, as signs of a vibrant faith and “a further remedy against faith fatigue” that can be seen in areas of the world where the general aging and diminishing number of active Catholics are indications of “a crisis of faith.”
These examples of a growing enthusiasm and involvement in the faith, he said, held several lessons for the Church as it tries to strengthen active Catholics, bring back those who do not go to church, and reach out to people who have not seriously considered the Christian message.
Year of Faith
A few months earlier, in October 2011, Pope Benedict XVI announced that this coming October 11, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, would begin a special “Year of Faith” to help Catholics appreciate the gift of their faith, to deepen their faith and intensify their mission to charity, and to strengthen their commitment to evangelization. The year would conclude, he said, on November 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King.
“We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden,” the pope wrote in his October 17 apostolic letter “Porta Fidei” (“Door of faith”), which announced the Year of Faith. “The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him. We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples.”
The pope continued, “Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples.”
Through resources such as the Catechism and the teachings of Church leaders, saints, and martyrs throughout history, Catholics will be able to deepen their faith understanding.
We as Catholics cannot “grow lazy in the faith,” the pope said.
“What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end,” he wrote.
Joining the effort
These catechumens and candidates who were presented at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion and will be joining the Church this year will be a part of the New Evangelization in this Year of Faith. In communion with seasoned Catholics in their parish, diocese, and around the world, they will be urged to participate in the mission of the year.
“Why am I talking about this? Because this is the Church into which you catechumens and candidates are about to enter,” Bishop Robert C. Morlino said in his homily at the rite February 26. (See the bishop’s column on Page 3, adapted from this homily.) “This is the Church of today and it’s very good to know this is what you’re getting into.”
Through this Year of Faith, we will call the attention of the world to the beauty of the Church, the bishop said: the beauty of the people of the Church, the beauty of all creation, and the beauty of the liturgy.
If people see the beauty in these three things, Bishop Morlino said, “then the New Evangelization will happen — then it will blossom faith and it will be unstoppable.
“That’s what we want to proclaim,” he said. “This is the ship that you are boarding — a battleship to the New Evangelization with ‘Beauty’ as our cry.”