Wednesday, May 7, 2003

From America

An article by Willard Jabusch on The Vanishing Eucharist.

Now, the entire article is available only to subscribers, and I can't, ethically, just repost the entire article here. So I'll summarize and post an excerpt, and hopefully what I give you will be enough fodder for commentary:

Jabusch writes of the increasing number of Catholic parishes without resident priests, and therefore, possibly without weekly Eucharist. It is an even more common experience in Latin America, and has been for centuries, since quite often, missionaries would come in, bring a village into the Church, and then only be able to return once or twice a year to take care of the sacraments and celebrate Mass. Jabusch continues:

One day a Protestant missionary team from Texas arrived in the village. They rented a house and went from door to door making friends and handing out literature, especially nicely illustrated copies of the New Testament. Since most of the people had trouble reading, they also offered Christian songs, which they taught to the children and broadcast in the evening over their loudspeakers.

But these industrious and vigorous young Americans had no! intention of remaining in the village forever. They quickly made the acquaintance of Pablo, a young married man, the father of two sons, who clearly was intelligent and personable. His neighbors recognized his obvious leadership qualities. Pablo, with his wife and children, became the first persons in town to accept the new religion, reading the Bible every day, giving up the potent local “firewater” and leading the prayers and hymns at the Sunday service and Wednesday night Bible study. The Americans then arranged for Pablo to attend an Assembly of God Bible college in the capital for some intensive courses in Scripture and in preaching. A simple but attractive little chapel was built at the edge of town. When Pablo returned with his certificate in Bible studies, he was named the pastor.

Thus a new Assembly of God congregation, one of hundreds, came to be established. With a resident pastor who was rooted in the community, educated (but not overeducated),! zealous and involved in the life of the village, preaching sermons in the local dialect, it is not a surprise that this new Protestant congregation would quickly grow. When the Catholic priest next came to San Miguelito for his yearly visit, there was a clear lack of interest in what he had to say.

Even if a celibate priest could be found to go and live in a remote village like San Miguelito, he comes as an outsider, an “intellectual” with a university and seminary training. He has read Aquinas and Bonaventure, perhaps Rahner or Ratzinger. With whom can he talk? Where is the intellectual stimulus? With neither a wife nor children, how long before boredom and loneliness leads him to alcohol, eccentricities or sex? Pablo, on the other hand, “fits in.” His sermons may be rather thin theologically, fundamentalist and na├»ve, but he is accepted and content with his little flock.

In Peru and Bolivia, in Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico, wherev! er there are few priests or where the priests are arrogant or indolent, the story of San Miguelito has been repeated. The bishops of Latin America meet and discuss this, but they seem powerless to halt the march of converts into evangelical Protestantism or Mormonism. One Mormon “elder” (all of 20 years old) told me that in the United States their most successful area for conversions is the Southwest. They are finding so many converts among Hispanics that they hardly have resources or time to process them all.

In Latin America even very small villages will have an Assembly of God or other evangelical church. A town of any size will also boast a large white Mormon “church” with a gleaming spire pointed like a needle into the sky, a religious education building and a tidy sports field for soccer and American basketball. For several decades now, it may well be that the most effective preachers in Spanish or Portuguese are not Catholic. In many plac! es, the Catholic clergy are not only outnumbered, but they seem to lack the fervor and evangelical passion of the Protestants. All this has been the price, a very high price, for the Catholic unwillingness or inability to supply sufficient and effective pastors for the people.

I would like to hear your considered thoughts on this. Celibacy might come into it, but there are other, more important issues, if you think about it. What can, realistically speaking, the RC Church do to meet this challenge? Certainly, the Church is doing what it can by training lay ministers and ordaining deacons (although if you recall, last year in the Mexican state of Chiapas, I believe, the diocese was told to stop ordaining deacons...there were too many and the people might was said), but, as Jabusch points out, if the Eucharist is, indeed so vital to Catholic life, is that enough? What of the education issue? We might instinctively say...hey, he's got a point, but then remember that one of the major factors leading up to the Protestant Reformation was the prevalence of under-educated there a middle ground? And if you want to bring celibacy into it, feel free, but do so realistically as well..for there are indeed married Roman Catholic priests, brought in to meet a pastoral need - the incoming, convert priest's need, that is..