Fr. Dwight Longenecker on a Once and Future Christendom
The population centre of world Christendom has shifted, and we in the West have hardly taken notice
Those who wished for a golden age of liberal ideals will be cruelly disappointed because the Catholicism of the new majority tends to be rather orthodox. They believe the old, old story of a God who sends his Son to the world to redeem the world from sin. They believe in a supernatural religion, the efficacy of the sacraments, and the power of the Church.
There is a constant temptation for people to forget the present moment and look fondly for a golden age in which the Church enshrines everything they hold sacred. Some traditionalists tend to look back to a pre-Vatican II golden age that never really existed, but it is also true that some progressive Catholics look vainly to a golden age. The difference is, they look to a golden age of the future. Both golden ages exist only in the imaginations of their authors. These pipe dreams are not harmless illusions or entertaining diversions, but harmful delusions that cause divisions. There is a certain type of Catholic who longs for a third Vatican Council that picks up where Vatican II left off. They hope for another 'good Pope John' who will open the windows of the church and allow the fresh air of the liberal secular agenda to re-invigorate a moribund, legalistic and repressive church. But this is a pipe dream just as much as the traditionalist's nineteen fifties Catholic fantasy, and when things don't turn out the way they wanted some of these Catholics become just as bitter as the traditionalists they so dislike. Demographics indicate that whether there is a third Vatican Council or not, the church is in for a radical upheaval, however the radicalism will be very different than that envisioned by the aging, affluent, intellectual progressives. When we look beyond the affluent countries of the North and West we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in urbane Catholic European circles is even now on the move. The population centre of world Christendom has shifted, and we in the West have hardly taken notice. In 1900, Africa had just 10 million Christians out of a continental population of 107 million. This made up about 9 percent of the population. Today, the Christian total stands at 46 percent or 360 million. That percentage will continue to rise because Christian African countries have some of the world's most dramatic rates of population growth. At the same time, the advanced industrial countries are experiencing a disastrous drop in birth rate. Within the next 25 years, the population of the world's Christians is expected to grow to 2.6 billion (making Christianity by far the world's largest faith). By 2025, 50 percent of the Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America, and another 17 percent will be in Asia. Within fifty years only one-fifth of the world's Christians will be non-Hispanic whites. The typical Christian will be a woman living in a Nigerian village or in a Brazilian shantytown. Already the annual baptism total for the Philippines is higher than the totals for Italy, France, Spain, and Poland combined. The number of Filipino Catholics could grow to 90 million by 2025, and perhaps to 130 million by 2050. It is interesting that the future belongs to the young, hungry and zealous Christians of the South and East, but what is more interesting is their version of the Catholic faith. Those who wished for a golden age of liberal ideals will be cruelly disappointed because the Catholicism of the new majority tends to be rather orthodox. They believe the old, old story of a God who sends his Son to the world to redeem the world from sin. They believe in a supernatural religion, the efficacy of the sacraments, and the power of the church.
They prefer the older, sacramental, visually based devotions and are far more respectful of the authority of priests and bishops. Hot topics like women's ordination, homosexual marriage and the democratization of the church leave them cold. Their agenda is radical in a different way: they are hungry. And the Lord, as we know, has a habit of filling the hungry with good things while he sends the rich away empty. This implies a future conflict between the new majority and the old guard. This conflict is not only within the Catholic Church. An example of the clash between established world and developing world flared up a few years ago when the world's Anglican bishops gathered at Lambeth in England. Many of the bishops from America and Britain wanted to push through a more permissive stance on homosexuality, but the Asian and African bishops were having none of it.
They pointed out that there are more Anglicans in Nigeria alone than in Britain, Canada and the USA combined. They insisted on a conservative stance and infuriated the British and North American bishops who were used to being in charge. When an American bishop accused the Africans of being "ignorant fundamentalists", the African bishop politely replied that he too had a PhD from Oxford and accused the American bishop of being patronizing and racist. In the Catholic Church the shift of power is evident in the College of Cardinals. When Pope John Paul II created new cardinals in his final consistory, eleven of the forty-four were Latin American, two were Indian, and three African. When Pope Benedict was elected fifty-seven of the 135 cardinals eligible to vote were from Southern nations. Within a few years, because of deaths and retirement of elderly cardinals, the third world electors will constitute a majority.When Pope Benedict goes to his reward, will the Cardinals from the developing world elect one of their number to the throne of Peter? Almost certainly. What must be most annoying for Fr Folkmass and Sister Sandals is that they are the ones who have (rightfully) been most fervent in supporting the rise of Christians in the poor countries. They have been the ones most vocal in wishing for the 'voice of the faithful' to be heard. In a paradoxical way, the twenty first century will see the fruition of their dreams. The voice of the faithful will be heard. The majority within the church will take the reigns of power, but the church the new majority brings to birth will look very different from the future golden age the progressives had envisioned.
Fr Dwight Longenecker is pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church and Chaplain to St Joseph's Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book, The Gargoyle Code is a Lenten book in the style of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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