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Catholic journalist-author John Allen outlines Church ‘mega-trends’ to watch

DENVER, Colo. (Denver Catholic Register) - In a fact-filled talk in Denver on March 4, journalist-author John Allen spoke about mega-trends facing the Church and tied them to Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming U.S. visit. The pope will visit Washington D.C. and New York City April 15-20.

Allen is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and also a CNN correspondent. He spoke before a sizeable crowd of 250 people in Bonfils Hall at the John Paul II Center. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., invited Allen, a close friend, to speak.

Allen spoke about the Catholic Church becoming a world church, evangelical Catholicism, the biotech revolution and globalization. A book he is writing on mega-trends facing the Church will be published this year.

The first mega-trend facing the Catholic Church, according to Allen, is the transition to a “world church” due to growing Catholic populations in Africa, Asia and South America. Allen calls this “Southern Catholicism.” In the past, the Church has been dominated by Europe and North America.

This population shift, he said, will move Church leadership to a more global focus.

Hemispheric differences

Allen noted several common characteristics of “Southern Catholicism,” including that most priests are morally conservative, but politically liberal. This is because the priests and the Church are often the only voice for the people to defend the common good in non-democratic and often tyrannical governments. For example, priests in Zimbabwe wrote a letter to the President Robert Mugabe telling him it is time for him to leave.

Southern Catholicism is also biblical and not speculative. The supernatural is “very palpable and real,” Allen said. Miracles and exorcisms are the “meat and potatoes” of a supernatural spirituality.

Southern Catholicism also has a problem of growth, not decline.

“There is runaway, explosive, dynamic growth,” Allen said. In Africa, not enough seminaries can be built to keep up with the demand for priests and baptisms.

“People are being baptized faster than priests can be ordained,” Allen said.

Possible echoes on the pope’s visit include asking for solidarity. There might be a stronger sense of the world Church inside American Catholicism because the pope recently named the first cardinal from a Texas diocese last October.

The battle against secularism

The second mega-trend facing the Catholic Church is evangelical Catholicism. There is a strong emphasis on a traditional Catholic identity as a reaction against secular humanism, which has eroded Catholic institutions. Evangelical Catholicism includes a strong public proclamation, and faith as a matter of personal choice rather than a cultural influence.

Contemporary Europe is very secular, Allen said. According to a recent poll, only 27 percent of Italians think religion is very important. In comparison, 59 percent of Americans think religion is very important. This growing secularism is a major concern for the current papacy, he said.

Some examples of evangelical Catholicism include changes to the liturgy to reflect more accurate translations of the original biblical text, Catholic education and a culture of life.

Possible papal echoes might be a call to a strong sense of Catholic identity and a call to foster religious vitality in the United States.

Bioethical concerns on the rise

The third mega-trend is the biotechnology revolution, which includes cloning, in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research, end of life issues, genetic engineering, genetically modified organisms, and justice and health care issues.

Increasingly, the question will come down to what it means to be human, Allen said.

Allen concluded that the biotechnology issue will consume more and more doctrinal time for the pope.

Possible echoes during the pope’s visit might be a strong call to a culture of life and the recognition that science can contribute greatly to humanity, but it can also destroy humanity.

The fourth mega-trend Allen sees is globalization. Worldwide, more people are enjoying prosperity, but most people worldwide still live in poverty.

Possible echoes during the pope’s visit might include developing human rights beginning with religious freedom and the growing ecology movement complementing natural law.

Allen concluded that American Catholics will need to emphasize the things that bring us together and not the issues that divide us to successfully meet and overcome the challenges facing the Catholic Church.

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of the Denver Catholic Register (www.archden.org), official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver, Colo.

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