By Jeanette Rouch Druva Kafka
For The Catholic Messenger
St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Iowa City hosted a renewal of the faith event last month that celebrated the 175th anniversary of the completion of the first church of St. Mary in Iowa City. Father Mike Weldon, pastor of St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix was the keynote speaker. Fr. Mike, a native of Parnell, spoke of the history of the church in Iowa City but emphasized the renewal of faith through our mission as church, which, to put it simply, is to love. Fr. Mike pointed out clearly that the church is constantly changing. The way we perceive church, whether that be as a servant church (whose purpose is to serve the world), or a cultic church (ritualistic and organized through hierarchy), is changing.
Fr. Mike led the two-evening session and, following Mass on the first evening, assigned homework: to read an America magazine article entitled, “The Uncertain Future of Parish Life.” The article indicates four major changes that will and are currently impacting the way in which we experience church.
1) “The number of parishes in the United States declined from 19,559 in 1990 to 17,337 in 2015 while the Catholic population increased proportionally, remaining at 25 percent of the total U.S. population.
2) A shortage of priests exists. “In 1990, there were just over 34,000 diocesan priests in the U.S.; in 2014 there were 16,462 active diocesan priests.”
3) “There have been significant decreases in Mass attendance and participation in the sacraments. More than 100 million in the United States in 2014 were baptized Catholics and more than 78 million self-identified as Catholic, but only 18.7 million attended Mass on a weekly basis.”
4) “There has been a major increase in cultural/ethnic diversity in the American church. About a third of all Catholic parishes serve a particular racial, ethnic, cultural and/or linguistic community, and some serve two or more of these communities.”
What these changes beget is more change. These changes will inevitably lead to reconfiguration. Some churches may need to close, others may need to merge, but as Catholics, we are familiar with change. Catholicism, as we know it today, is built upon change and reformation. We made it through Vatican II intact, maybe even stronger than before. As we face these changes, Fr. Mike calls us to “reach out to all demographics and try to keep everyone gathered around the table. Put histories and disagreements aside so that we may stay in sacred communion. Doing this will help us on our mission.”
Fr. Mike explained that “Church doesn’t have a mission; the mission has a church. Jesus came because he loved us so much that word became flesh and the church participated in that mission to spread that love, and all parts of the church should be focused on that.”
Fr. Mike’s parting words were a quote from Pope Francis, “Let Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”