On October 5th, 2012, John Allen (Vatican correspondent for CNN and ABC) visited John Carroll University for a special conference: A New Cloud of Witnesses: The Laity 50 Years After Vatican II.
He began with a powerful challenge to the audience: “We must begin to think globally or think dysfunctionally, those are our only options.” His presentation began with a challenge to see beyond our reality of Catholicism and concluded with some shocking statistics that would never allow us to forget about the global church again. This post will simply address a few of his ideas from the presentation.
Allen claimed that there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and only 67 million Catholics in America. Therefore, 6% of the world’s Catholics are American and the rest of them (94%) are “not like us.” We tend to complain that the Church is not adapting to our American culture, yet we make up a very insignificant percentage of Catholic’s around the world. Allen suggests that catering to every American need would be an injustice, “It’s just not who we are.” He provided another example, pointing out that the common Catholic American feels that Church is shrinking; yet, globally, the Church is experiencing “mammoth growth.” He claims that is it natural for Americans to feel this way especially with so many schools and parishes closing. This however is the exact behavior he concerned about. If we fail to think about the church as global, we will begin to see things dysfunctionally.
With the global church on the rise, experiencing unprecedented growth, Allen began to speak of the church’s impending issues. While the priest shortage is a common dilemma in the United States, it is an escalating issue in places such as Africa, Latin America, and even the Philippines. While it is easy rouse excitement in stages of “rapid growth,” it is even easier to forget about the problems it may cause. He uses the priest shortage as a primary example as the issue is significantly worse in third world countries. While the United States has a ratio of 1 priest to every 1,300 people, the sub-Sahara has a ratio of 1:5,500 and even worse, Latin America at 1:7,800. The question then remains: How do we administer sacraments effectively with such a shortage of priests? The problem becomes even more complex with countries such as the Philippines, which has over 7,000 islands. Will priests have to take boats to each individual island for people to experience the Holy Sacraments?
What struck me most was his statistic that 2/3 of the Catholic priests where in the global north and 2/3 of the Catholic population are in the global south. We are complaining about the shortage of priests yet it is our own culture that has the majority of them. He predicted that the number of priests in the global north will soon be an injustice to the global south. If we are truly a Church that “belongs to each other,” shouldn’t we send priests to Latin America?
While these are all questions that do not necessarily have an answer, they are questions that we must wrestle with as we keep the global church in mind. The church in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is indeed our Church—and we need to start thinking about the church as a whole. Focusing solely on the issues in front of us gives us only a fraction of our story. We must begin to think globally—anything less is selfish and an injustice to who we are as the Catholic Church.