August 22, 2008


Pope’s search for unity

Unity was definitely on the mind of Pope Benedict XVI while he was in Australia.

Besides attending World Youth Day, he also re-emphasized his desire for greater cooperation and dialogue with leaders of other faiths. He met with leaders of other Christian communities and followed that up with a meeting with leaders of non-Christian religions.

He told the other Christians, “Your presence fills me with the ardent hope that as we pursue together the path of full unity, we will have the courage to give common witness to Christ.” That unity, he said, “ultimately points toward a common celebration of the Eucharist, which Christ entrusted to his Apostles as the sacrament of the Church’s unity.”

He told the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, “A harmonious relationship between religion and public life is all the more important at a time when some people have come to consider religion as a cause of division rather than a force for unity.”

On the contrary, he said, “The unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity.”

Although the common theme was unity, it was a bit different for the two audiences. For the Christian leaders, he spoke about religious unity. For the non-Christian leaders, it was an appeal to unite their voices in the search for world peace.

To the Christian leaders, he noted that we are celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul, whom he called “a tireless worker for unity in the early Church.” Therefore, he said, “We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live.”

And to the non-Christians, he said, “It is incumbent upon religious people to demonstrate that it is possible to find joy in living simply and modestly, generously sharing one’s surplus with those suffering from want.”

—John F. Fink

Lapsed Catholics, fervent converts

Back in our April 4 issue, in our editorial titled “Why are so many Catholics leaving the Church?,” we commented on the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which revealed that one-third of those raised as Catholics in the United States have left the Church. That survey attracted a lot of attention by other Catholic periodicals as well as those of other Christian faiths.

We thought that one of the more interesting analyses came from Robert Benne, who wrote in

The Cresset, a magazine published by Valparaiso University (a Lutheran university): “Continuing the list of surprises about Catholicism, 10 percent of all Protestants are former Catholics but 8 percent of Catholics are former Protestants. That 8 percent represents a considerable number, around 5 million. Converts to Catholicism usually are far more intense about their faith than cradle Catholics, so I suspect that this 8 percent injects new vigor into the Church.”

Father Richard John Neuhaus commented on Benne’s analysis in the interreligious magazine First Things. He said, “[Benne] also notes that a striking number of Catholic converts are prominent intellectuals. A young man who is active in Catholic ministries at an Ivy League university speaks warmly of their cooperation with evangelical ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ. Ecumenical cordiality, however, does not preclude an element of evangelistic rivalry. ‘The big difference,’ he says, ‘is that they aim at the weakest Catholics while we aim at the strongest evangelicals.’

“The claim is that evangelicals who are more theologically versed and religiously committed are more open to Catholicism, while Catholics who become evangelicals were, for whatever reason, alienated from Christianity. Put differently, religiously serious evangelicals are more likely to become Catholics, while religiously lapsed Catholics are more likely to become evangelicals,” said Father Neuhaus, who himself is an intellectually astute convert from Lutheranism.

Benne is not the first to observe that converts to Catholicism often are more fervent about their faith than those baptized as babies and raised Catholic.

The task must be to make cradle Catholics as theologically versed and religiously committed as the converts so we can reduce the number of lapsed Catholics.

—John F. Fink

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