What kind of “believers”?

George Weigel

This past June I was in the Munich area for four days, giving a public lecture on Evangelical Catholicism and doing a lot of media interviews. My hosts were exceptionally gracious, but it was also obvious that the Catholic Church in what was once Germany’s most intensely Catholic region is in terrible shape. The numbers tell the tale.

The parish in whose rectory I stayed has some 10,000 parishioners — which is to say, the pastor knows that there are 10,000 people within the parish boundaries who, when paying their federal taxes, tick the box for the Kirchensteuer, the “Church tax.” Having seen years of statistics on Sunday Mass attendance from the German bishops’ conference, I was expecting the pastor to answer my question about his Sunday congregation with a figure somewhere between 700 and 1,000. No, he said; average Sunday Mass attendance among those 10,000 parishioners was 200. And when he asked people politely when he might see them at Mass, he frequently got the answer, “Look, I pay the Church tax; what else do you want?”

So it was with some interest that I read the recent explanation by Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx as to why he and the majority of the German bishops were defying the Vatican and plowing ahead with their “binding Synodal process,” in order to re-examine “issues” such as the Church’s sexual ethic, its teaching on marriage, and its ancient pattern of ordaining only men to the ministerial priesthood. Cardinal Marx claimed that “Countless believers in Germany consider (these issues) in need of discussion.” The not-so-tacit suggestion was that questions once thought settled by the Church were in fact open.

In light of my recent experience in the cardinal’s archdiocese, some questions immediately occurred: Who are these “countless believers”? Do they participate in the Eucharistic community of the Church or do they just pay the Church tax (and get snarky when asked why worship is not on their Sunday agenda)?

And further: How many of these “countless believers,” who seem to think that what is settled is in fact unsettled, have ever had the truths they question explained to them? How many of German Catholicism’s legion of theologians and church workers devote themselves to such teaching? The archdiocese of Munich and Freising has, I was told, some 2,000 employees. Do any of them live the vocation to explain what is challenging in the Gospel and the Catholic Church’s application of it?

Moreover, in what time-warp do these “countless believers” live? The Catholic Church has spent an inordinate amount of time and energy over the past 50 years “discussing” the “issues” that Cardinal Marx suggests are at the top of German Catholics’ concerns. Isn’t the real problem here that, after a lot of discussion and deliberation, the teaching authority of the Church resolved those issues in a way that “countless believers” didn’t like and still don’t like — perhaps because the Church’s settled answers are in severe tension with the libertine public moral culture that prevails across western Europe?

A little honesty here would go a long way.

Much of the Catholic Church in Germany (and in other German-speaking lands) is in a de facto state of schism: many of its leaders and intellectuals do not believe what the Catholic Church believes. And because of that, they do not teach what the Catholic Church teaches. Nor does this de facto schism touch on neuralgic moral questions alone. It involves the bottom of the bottom line: Is Jesus Christ the unique redeemer of humanity, such that all who are saved are saved through him (in one fashion or another)? Are there divinely revealed truths that remain binding over time? Is the Catholic Church speaking the truth when it solemnly declares that it is doing so, irrespective of what the surrounding culture thinks?

Catholicism is dying in the German-speaking world, not because the Gospel has been proclaimed and found incredible or hard, but because it hasn’t been proclaimed with joy, confidence, and zeal. Friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and incorporation into the community of disciples in mission that is the Church, has not been offered. That is why there is two percent Mass attendance in that Munich parish. Recognizing that hard truth is the only path toward a German Catholicism that has something credible to say to the rest of the world Church.

 

COMING UP: Colorado Capuchins celebrate 50th anniversary the same way they serve – humbly

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On May 5, the Colorado Capuchins quietly marked their 50th anniversary of serving in Colorado.

What was intended as a jubilant celebration with Masses from both of Denver’s bishops did not happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of public Masses. However, the friars of the Capuchin Province of St. Conrad celebrated by doing what they do best: humbly serving the people of Colorado.

In the spirit of the present circumstances, however, they also began reaching out to people in a socially-distant way. They began livestreaming a Mass from the St. Francis of Assisi Friary for the faithful to tune into and are creating a series of videos on their rich 50-year history here in Colorado. Additionally, the friars have been posting daily videos of encouragement on their YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/CapuchinFranciscans). The Masses can also be viewed there.

In a blog post published on the Capuchins’ website July 12, Brother Mark Schenk, O.F.M Cap., Provincial Vicar of the St. Conrad Province in Denver, wrote about the mission of the Capuchin Franciscans in Denver over the past 50 years.

“This year our province joyfully commemorates 50 years of Capuchin presence in Colorado,” Brother Schenk wrote. “Pope Pius XI once said of the Capuchins, ‘When help was sorely needed, in places that were abandoned and where no one else would go, there you will find the Capuchins.’

“Over the past 50 years, we have striven to be faithful to that identity, bearing the joy of the Gospel to the marginalized and forgotten. It was need that brought us westward and it was need that inspired our multitude of ministries to the poor, lost, sick, dying and imprisoned of Colorado.”

Fifty years ago, Capuchin Franciscan friars made their way to Colorado to serve the people here, and they have been a vibrant piece of the faith community ever since. (Photos courtesy of the Capuchin Franciscans)

The Capuchins came out west to Kansas in 1878 in response to a request from Bishop Louis Mary Fink of Leavenworth to care for the numerous German-speaking immigrants from Russia’s Volga River who were settling in the area around Hays. In 1970, following the Capuchin charism of going where they are needed, they expanded their ministry to Colorado at the request of Archbishop James Casey, who needed assistance in pulling Annunciation Parish in Denver back together.

On the morning of May 5, 1970, Father Paulinus Karlin and another friar on loan from Puerto Rico left Kansas and drove to Annunciation where a new chapter of Capuchin history began. The Capuchins remain at Annunciation Parish to this day, where they continue to embody the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi in brotherhood, poverty and fierce dedication to the parish and the people in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“Today we continue the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi, bearing the Gospel to peoples and places that are neglected and forgotten,” Brother Schenk wrote. “Whether it be in the poor parishes ministering to immigrant populations, in the hospitals and care centers where our friars kneel in prayer at deathbeds or on the city streets where we offer food and fraternal love to the downcast and destitute, we want to venture where no one else will go.”

In March, the friars began livestreaming Mass from the St. Francis of Assisi Friary in Denver. Fifty years ago, Capuchin Franciscan friars made their way to Colorado to serve the people here, and they have been a vibrant piece of the faith community ever since. (Photos courtesy of the Capuchin Franciscans)

Among the many footprints the Capuchins have laid down in Colorado is the Samaritan House, which is now the largest Catholic homeless shelter in Colorado. Although they are no longer directly involved with its operation, the friars helped to plant the seeds for it through their Samaritan Shelter opened in 1982, and they maintain a constant presence there through a friar who serves as a chaplain.

One of the more innovative ways that the Friars reach out to those in need is through a food truck that the province launched in November 2018. Painted Franciscan brown with colorful artwork depicting local friars engaged in ministry as well as Saints Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, and Blessed Solanus Casey, the truck includes white text on the back acknowledging partnership with the Routzon Family Foundation, while messaging on the sides identifies it as belonging to the Capuchins and describing their mission as “Messengers of God’s mercy” and “Brothers to those in need.”

Two Sundays a month the truck heads to downtown sites where the homeless gather. There, friars and volunteers hand out sack lunches and beverages. They also give out seasonal items those living on the street may need such as hats, gloves and socks. Resources the poor can avail themselves of such as medical and mental health services are listed on the lunch bags.

“At first the people were hesitant because they saw a food truck and thought they had to pay,” said Capuchin Brother Jude Quinto, recalling the truck’s first run Nov. 25. “But when they saw friars in brown habits running around, then they knew what we were up to and a crowd started forming.”

The friars opened a food truck in November 2018 as a way to help the homeless of Denver have access to free, healthy meals. Fifty years ago, Capuchin Franciscan friars made their way to Colorado to serve the people here, and they have been a vibrant piece of the faith community ever since. (Photos courtesy of the Capuchin Franciscans)

Additionally, in 2011, the friars founded the Julia Greeley guild in honor of Julia Greeley, a former slave and lay Franciscan whose cause for canonization is currently underway. If she is canonized, she would be the first saint declared from Colorado.

Today, pandemic or not, the Capuchin Franciscans of the St. Conrad Province continue to live out their charism of brotherhood and sharing the Gospel with those who need it most/

“We continue to seek out the abandoned places where aid is sorely needed,” Brother Schenk concluded, “working alongside the laity to bear the good news of the Gospel where the need is desperate and few are willing to go.”