The wise admonition to “wait and see” concludes Lou Baldwin’s article this week about Catholic demographic trends, part of this newspaper’s special report on parish life in Philadelphia and its suburbs. The various articles – with more on our web site at cst-phl.com – tell a lot about the character of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and where as a local Church we’re headed.
Our parishes today reflect a Church much like America itself in at least one respect. If there’s one constant in American life, it’s that people are on the move. In the Archdiocese, people have historically immigrated to Philadelphia and its large towns before they themselves or their descendants years later moved to greener backyards, often former farms.
The lure of a bigger house, better security and economic opportunity has resulted in more Catholics living out of the city than within it. But has a sense of community been lost along the way? The simple act of walking on sidewalks to stores and neighbors’ homes produces the kind of personal contact that is often lost in suburban communities in which one may not bump into a neighbor (let alone a stranger) because one must drive to almost every destination.
Archdiocesan parishes in city and suburbs experience all this chaotic movement of humanity. The challenges and traditions of city life continue in long-standing churches while suburban churches welcome new members and accommodate growing communities.
Looking into the future, it can be said with some certainty that the trend of Catholic population growth in the suburbs and decline in the city will continue. This process will continue to impact parish life, and bring with it a host of opportunities and challenges.
Another fairly certain trend is that of immigration. Regardless of public policy changes in the near or short term, new arrivals from Latin America, Asia and Africa into suburban areas will continue to alter parish life and the character of the Archdiocese. In what ways, we will have to wait and see.
But while we wait, these newly arrived Catholics from overseas or cross-county should be welcomed because of the rich spanersity and strong faith that they bring to the Church.
While we prepare to meet the emerging needs of this local church that is always changing and growing, each parishioner in city or suburb should recognize that the parish is a family of faith. When the doors of that church-home are opened, everyone, from wherever they come originally, should be made to feel at home.