.- The U.S. and other Western nations are “mission territory” for the Catholic Church in modern times, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York stressed in a July 17 online posting.
“I was raised – as were most of you – to think of the missions as 'way far away' – and, to be sure, we can never forget our sacred duty to the foreign missions,” the New York archbishop wrote on his “Gospel in the Digital Age” blog.
“But, we are a mission territory, too. Every diocese is. And every committed Catholic is a missionary. This is at the heart of what Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI call the New Evangelization.”
Cardinal Dolan voiced his agreement with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who observed in a June 2012 speech to the Catholic Press Association that his own archdiocese was “now really mission territory … for the second time.”
While the Philadelphia archbishop's statement may seem startling, Cardinal Dolan said it was “right on target” – not simply due to troubles facing the Church in Philadelphia, but because of the larger crisis of faith sweeping through Western societies.
“Our beloved Archdiocese of New York is also mission territory,” the cardinal and U.S. bishops' conference president observed. Although his local church is financially and administratively sound, it faces the same spiritual challenges that prompted Archbishop Chaput's remark.
“Maybe, we have gotten way too smug. We have taken our Catholic faith for granted,” the New York archbishop suggested.
The entire Church, he said, can no longer “coast on the former fame, clout, buildings, numbers, size, money, and accomplishments of the past.”
On July 12, the Gallup polling organization released figures showing a historic drop in U.S. resident's confidence in religious institutions. Only 44 percent of Americans, from various faith backgrounds, now say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in “the church or organized religion.”
That figure marks the lowest point since at least 1973, when religious organizations were ranked as the country's most trusted institutions with around 66 percent confidence. The figure has generally declined since then, reaching previous lows of 45 percent in 2002 and 46 percent in 2007.
But Catholics should not be “depressed” by Western countries' shift away from religious belief and practice. Instead, they should be “awakened and challenged,” Cardinal Dolan said.
Today, he said, the Church is “with the apostles on Pentecost Sunday as we embrace the New Evangelization.” The campaign to re-evangelize historically Christian societies is the topic of an October 2012 synod in Rome, which will begin the Year of Faith called by Pope Benedict XVI.
“You and I are missionaries,” the New York archbishop told the faithful, emphasizing that the conversion of others “starts inside” with one's own conversion.