Much has been made recently of a Pew report illustrating a decline in Christianity in America, Catholicism particularly.
The idea that six Catholics leave the Church for every one who joins it troubles me. However, yesterday I experienced something that gave me more than the hope I needed to realize that the Catholic Church I love so dearly will survive well into the future.
I have two daughters that attend a local Catholic school. My oldest was invited to participate in something called the “Living Rosary,” in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Neither of them had been involved in this activity previously, and because the event is held during the school day, my husband and I had never attended before. How I wish we had.
In the “Living Rosary” children from first through eighth grade serve as the jewels on the Rosary, one for each prayer. Assembled around the Church in the form of a Rosary with a student holding a crucifix at the head, each child starts the prayer they stand for, and the congregation of their classmates, teachers, parents and other parishioners answer back. Older children mark each of the holy mysteries of each decade.
It’s quite simple. There are no costumes, no special decor. No musicians, only two girls beautifully singing “Mary, Gentle Woman” acapella. (They reminded me of two girls in my grade school class who often cantered school Masses. They sang so beautifully. I always dreamed to sing with them, but had no such talent!) Just 200 or so Catholic school children leading prayer.
I’ve been to Mass with these same kids. And they are kids at Mass. They can’t resist chatting with each other, they zone out, some fall asleep, and at least one is usually escorted out for whatever infraction. Yet yesterday, in our quiet, dimly lit Church, they were attentive, engaged and alert. Many held flowers they had brought to adorn a new statue of the Virgin outside the Church in our parish garden.
With school coming to an end, I couldn’t help but see the growth these children had experienced through the year. Watching the prayers of the Rosary flow from soon-to-graduate eighth graders to just-beginning first graders was a powerful symbol of how we Catholics are obliged to pass our spiritual traditions on to our children, and they to one another.
They’re all kinds of children. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian. Boys and girls. Princesses and tomboys. Athletes and bookworms. Skinny ones, chubby ones. Ones with glasses, some with various spring injuries, others missing a tooth. A few who forgot to wear their special uniform blue polo. A reminder that God welcomes us all, no matter our differences, to unite in worship. Such a simple thought. Yet so powerful through the example of these children.
As the members of the Rosary and their classmates proceeded from Church to the courtyard to honor Mary with a crown of beautiful spring blossoms, they sang “Hail Holy Queen” with an enthusiasm normally reserved for sports and recess. One by one, class by class they laid their flowers before the Mother of God. Picked from gardens, bought from local stores, pruned from flowering trees. It was an amazing bouquet, fit for a Queen.
There are certainly dynamics working on the population of Catholics in the United States. The faithful come and go, often leaving the Church for purely human reasons – relocation of priests, something said at the pulpit, sour grapes over who’s who in the parish. Yet in so many places, these gems – the Catholic elementary schools that welcome all children to learn – still stand strong.
These children give me hope. I see their understanding of the basis of Catholicism – they know how to love one another, and how to forgive. As they grow into the adults who will lead the Church, I know Catholicism will live on.