Over several years, Catholic News Service reporters visited parishes from Alaska to New Jersey to Mississippi to look at the different ways parishes have adapted to an era of declining numbers of priests and increasing cultural diversity. With Pope Francis’ approaching visit, we examined what kind of US Church the pope would find if he had time to visit a cross-section of American parishes. Stories in the series will look at parish finances, clergy roles, education, and some non-traditional ways parishes organize themselves today.
First in a series
WASHINGTON — If Pope Francis were to have time on his US visit this month to stop at “typical” parishes, it might take a week or two just to see a representative sample.
Of course, while no two parishes anywhere in the world are exactly alike, North American Catholics who grew up in the middle of the 20th century likely would have felt more or less at home at the time visiting most churches around the United States.
The average parish of those decades probably was not unlike the version found in movies such as “Going My Way,” the Bing Crosby classic. In such parishes, “Father” was in charge of a smooth-running operation, with a couple of priests to assist him. Likely, “Sister” and other religious women ran the school. A handful of laypeople had minor parish support roles, but mostly the laity was found in the pews, bringing their children to school or supporting the church through bingo, carnivals, and pancake breakfasts.
Today, changing demographics of the US Catholic population have brought a great deal of variety to parishes — the US church is now 40 percent Latino, a proportion that is rapidly increasing.
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