The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a recent study that indicates 28 percent of Americans have either changed religious affiliations or claim no formal religion.
Roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics; and, as the 148-page study titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” showed, almost half of these former Catholics joined Protestant denominations. About half of these former Catholics do not have a religious affiliation, and a small percentage chose other faiths.
This is a common experience for many Catholic parents, who see their children depart the Catholic Church for another religion or stop the practice of any religion altogether. We know that too many pews are empty in Catholic Churches, as Catholics continue to wander from the Church and from active participation in parish life. Some Catholics drift into other religious faiths, seemingly changing religious affiliation as hastily as they change their style in clothing. Many Catholics appear to be more devoted to their cell phone company of choice, or affiliation to a professional sports team, than they are to the faith in which they were baptized and reared.
A decade into the third millennium, we are reminded by the late Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which he summoned Catholics to a new evangelization – a rekindling and rediscovery of the passion and fire experienced by the Apostles at Pentecost. John Paul II emphasized that “Christ must be presented to all people with confidence. We shall address adults, families, young people, children, without ever hiding the most radical demands of the Gospel message, but taking into account each person’s needs in regard to their sensitivity and language.”
Far too many Catholics lack the evangelic spirit to boldly proclaim the Catholic faith in a culture and society desperately in need of the message of faith, hope and love. The missionary spirit seems to be limited to faraway places, while it is needed in our own parishes and neighborhoods in which the majority of wandering Catholics live.
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking at a local Roman parish last week, addressed this to the faithful, stating: “Always open your hearts wider to the pastoral work in the missionary context, which impels every Christian to meet people – particularly youth and families – where they live, work and spend their leisure time, in order to proclaim to them God's merciful love. “
The Pew Research study clearly indicates that there’s much evangelization needed across the nation, and even here in Catholic Rhode Island. All of us – clergy, religious and laity – need to take up John Paul II’s challenge of a new evangelization and rediscover the zeal of missionaries who long ago brought the faith to these shores. Following the example of these missionaries as well as the Apostles after the Pentecost, we must not shirk our duty as evangelists. “We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul,” as the late John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter, who cried out, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”