World Youth Day Statistics

It has been refreshing to see WYD being noticed by the media, but I am fascinated by the widely differing estimates of the numbers participating, from one million to three million. Add in those joining in from afar and I suppose the statistics become even more wobbly. Why do we want to know the numbers anyway? We are, of course, impressed by numbers, for good or ill. I have mentioned before that when we were seeking help in obtaining permanent accommodation for the community we were constantly being told we were ‘too small’ for help to be given, even though we needed the accommodation in order to grow. I suppose something similar is at work in Rio: numbers are bumped up or downplayed according to the individual’s ideas about Catholicism, and their hopes or fears for its future.

A lot of people are very keen to tell everyone about the huge numbers of Catholics lost to the Church in recent years (which is undeniable), the failure of the Church to capture the imagination of young people (which is more arguable), and the general awfulness of Catholicism in general (which is nonsense); so when we see large crowds of young people gathering in Rio to celebrate their faith, it undermines the assurance of those who want to proclaim the death of organized religion in general and Catholicism in particular. I wouldn’t mind betting that the lower estimates come from those who are not exactly friendly to religion, and the higher ones from those who are Catholic themselves. Personally, I don’t think the numbers matter one bit. What really matters is that we pray in union with Pope Francis and all the others gathered in Rio. Faith cannot be measured in numbers but its effects can be seen everywhere we look.

Digitalnun Interview
Digitalnun has been on the radio again, this time it was for the CBC Sunday Edition being broadcast today. There is a link for online listening here. It lasts about 23 minutes. (With apologies for the media hype.)


The Future of the Church

Pope Francis has reminded us that the Church is eternally youthful. No matter how old and creaky some of us may feel, the sight of so many young people gathered in Rio for World Youth Day is surely an encouragement. It is in this context that it is useful to remember something Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, long before he became pope. He remarked that the Church was going to have to be a failure before it could be a success; that it was destined to suffer shrinkage and humiliation; that it would have to stop flirting with left and right politically and become a truly spiritual entity. (You can read a good summary here.) I think that shows the continuity of thought and understanding between Francis and Benedict about the nature of the Church and its future development. Many of the things that have become dear to us over the centuries will have to go, but we are too close to them to see exactly what they are. Of this, however, we can be sure: the stripping away of what is loved and familiar will be painful, but it is a necessary part of our purification.

A friend wrote recently that some religious in the south-west were no longer able to wear one of the distinctive items of their habit because it invited loutish behaviour from those who didn’t understand it; that others had even had stones thrown at them — and this in England! The automatic respect that religion was once accorded has now gone. You may think that a good or bad thing — it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is what follows from this change. We need to understand that we are in mission territory. We can no longer go on making the comfortable assumptions we once did. Personally, I have no difficulty with that; but I wonder whether that is true of the Church at large. Are we prepared to be the kind of Church both Benedict and Francis have envisioned, or do we want something else — less challenging perhaps, but more familiar? It is a question each of us must ask him/herself.