.- Pope Benedict XVI is “glad to hear” from U.S. bishops on a recent visit to the Vatican that the Catholic Church is rapidly expanding in Texas.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, told CNA that what caught the Pope's attention the most is that “we are the region in the United States where the Catholic population is growing and growing intensely.”
Cardinal DiNardo and 21 other bishops from Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma have just completed six days in Rome on what is known as an Ad Limina Apostolorum visit. That involves making pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul as well as meeting the various Vatican departments to discuss the health of the Church in each diocese.
“This has been a very fine visit,” Cardinal DiNardo said, “and we’ve had beautiful celebrations at the tomb of the apostles.” He said that “offering Christ’s sacrifice” at the tombs renewed the bishops “sensibilities” towards their “commitment to the apostolic faith” and brought about “a grand communion of all the bishops together.”
The delegation met with Pope Benedict XVI in three groups over two days. Cardinal DiNardo, who also serves as head of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, explained the changing demographics of the Catholic Church in their region to the Pope.
He noted that 25 years ago, Houston had a Catholic population of around 12 percent – a that figure has since doubled.
The ethnic diversity of that new Catholic community is now such that Mass can often be offered in 18 different languages across the diocese each Sunday. The main influx has come from other parts of the U.S. such as the Midwest or north-east and also from other parts of the Americas.
“Houston also has the largest Vietnamese population outside Orange County in California,” explained Cardinal DiNardo.
The city has 135,000 Vietnamese of which about 30,000 are Catholic. That figure is rising, said the Cardinal, as many Vietnamese are now converting from Buddhism to Catholicism.
He described the trend as “very interesting” and ascribed it to the intensity with which Vietnamese Catholics practice their faith.
Cardinal DiNardo said the “huge influx” of people from all over the world and from elsewhere in the U.S. has produced “a grand enrichment and a very positive flavor to Catholicism.” Added to a “Texan informality” and the result has been a faith which “people find very welcoming.”
This has been “extremely helpful,” he said, in making people feel “attached” to the Church so that “we can then deepen more in terms of formation and catechesis.”