Stephen Kent

It was another one of those conversations that have occurred with some frequency in the past few weeks.

“So, who do you think will be the new pope?” some asked. “I don’t know, they haven’t called,” I said, forfeiting any claim to being a prestigious Catholic journalist in the know. The interest in who will be pope appears to surpass the interest in the teaching and philosophy of the church that the new pope will lead.

There are over 4,400 journalists accredited to the Vatican for the conclave, added to the 600 permanently accredited. That means there about 5,000 media types in the tiny city-state. They are drawn by the pageantry, certainly, with the colorful vestments and liturgies, more so this time because it is not overshadowed by mourning for a deceased pope.

With so much interest in the leader, how can we capitalize on this moment? How can Catholics transmit the joy of our faith? This moment in time can be used to begin a conversation that otherwise might have been uncomfortable. For example, we could include a particular aspect of our faith in conversation by saying “as long as you asked.”

The current interest in all things Catholic could be used to restore a bright flame to the small glowing ember that still remains in a Catholic. However, “aggressive secularization” is doing a more effective job in telling us what we believe — which really isn’t what we believe.

At a recent luncheon of our Catholic university alumni, a table companion asked what happened “since our time” until now, when young people are not active in the faith. She referred to it as a rejection of the faith into which they were baptized and educated. I responded that it is more of a disinterest than a rejection, stemming from the time when there was more emphasis on catechesis than on formation.

Obviously it is important to know the articles of faith, but it is supremely important to think of who we are as Catholics. A Catholic is not a member of an institution. A Catholic is who we are as people.

“Most of us need to rethink our relationship with the church. If we perceive the church as an institution — the entity where we go for sacraments or for Catholic school, we are missing the point,” Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told the Living the Catholic Faith Conference.

In the luncheon conversation, a term was used that is not often heard today — “fallen away” Catholic. It is a good metaphor if you think of a leaf fallen away from a tree. It withered and dried for lack of support and nourishment from the trunk. This disinterest could be overcome.

“Every Catholic is called to evangelize others by their lives, in what they say and do,” Archbishop Aquila said.

The amount of media coverage in the next few weeks, some feel, will help get the church’s message out. Perhaps. But think about what is more effective. Is it a message coming from the media or one delivered by a friend or neighbor?

Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: