There are a lot of benefits to a semester abroad in Rome: Amid the majestic churches and grand ruins, and in between breaks for Ferrero Rocher coffee and panini lunches at the corner bar, I also got the chance to see the pope, chat up Italian women in their native italiano (sort of), educate myself in fine Tuscan wines and Sicilian cinnamon liqueurs, and learn from the example of such manly men as this political genius:
The pitfall of all these distractions, of course, is that I neglected Catholic Matters for a good 4 months. And for this, I sincerely apologize. However, after a period of presumed death comes life with renewed vigor: Categories have been reorganized and rejuvenated, new ideas for future posts abound, and there are even rumors of a new partner blog called The Catholic Gentleman being tossed around…
Anyway, I think it’s appropriate that my first post back in America be about my Catholic experience in Europe. Because I have to say, it wasn’t quite what I expected.
You see, you often hear from the American media that Christianity in Europe is fading away — that the breathtaking churches, teeming with beauty, history, and sanctity, are empty. The Left, of course, delights in showing this to demonstrate the triumph of secularization and statism over religion. But the Right just as eagerly contributes to this portrayal, too: We are warned that we must not go the way of Europe, which has “lost touch” with its Christian roots.
But obviously, it’s more complex than that. A few of the Masses I attended, I was disappointed to find, were actually lacking in participants. However, you have to ask yourself why, exactly, the churches were empty.
It could be that in Rome there’s a church literally on every block, and that every church has at least 4 masses every Sunday — so mass-goers, of course, would be dispersed.
It could also be that many of these churches have long been declared national historic treasures — and who wants to go to Mass with tourists taking pictures of you while you pray? (I, at any rate, found an unassuming church, devoid of tourists, next to my school building that was filled to capacity every Sunday and even on feast days.)
Moreover, the fact is, for many of the Masses I went to, the churches were full — far from the empty-church image I was taught to envision.
When some friends from France visited me in California a week ago, talking about attending John Paul II’s beatification and already making plans to go to World Youth Day 2013 in Rio, I was convinced: There remain good and strong Catholics in Europe yet– a lot, actually. Sure, Catholic Europe isn’t what she used to be, but she’s not totally lost, either.
Instead of believing the common misconception that old Europe has lost her faith, perhaps it’s better to see many of our European counterparts as like us. Imperfect, struggling against the tide of modernity. But still proud to be Catholic, still finding strength in the millennia-old Church that stands for Truth.
So instead of condemning them, let’s pray for them. Because they surely are doing the same for us.