As a production team we've long been planning to create a program to take a broad view of the Roman Catholic present. When Pope Benedict's visit to the U.S. was announced, it seemed a right moment had come. We wanted, as is our way, to look searchingly, but from inside a perspective of faith. I began to interview a few leaders and theologians recommended as wise and authoritative in the deepest sense of that word.
And at the same time we extended an invitation — on-air, through this newsletter, and via our Web site — for lay Catholics to reflect on the state of Roman Catholicism as seen through their eyes and in their lives. We asked, "What do you take solace in and find beautiful about this faith? What anchors and unsettles you in and beyond current headlines about the church? What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the state of the Church and its future?"
We were overwhelmed and moved by the hundreds upon hundreds of compelling, thoughtful, articulate responses that came in to our query, from disparate corners of contemporary lay Catholic experience. Our invitation was extended to wider networks by bloggers and even the National Catholic Register. We called some of those who wrote to us and captured their voices. And, in a departure from our usual format, we've built this program around nine of them. Their experiences, convictions, concerns, and hopes lead us through some of the present story of this tradition of 1.1 billion people globally and one-quarter of the U.S. population.
That this is a dynamic moment in time on many levels for the Roman Catholic Church — globally, nationally, and locally — goes without saying. The challenges of the present are brought into relief, and down to the ground, by the voices in this program. Yet the Catholics who wrote to us, and later spoke to us, rarely began their reflections with the kind of issue-oriented drama that is conveyed in the news. They wrote, overwhelmingly, of their love for the depths of this religion, especially the meaning they find in the sacraments of the Church. They wrote about their sense of the timelessness of the Church, its universality, the transcendent connection it makes possible across the ages and across the globe.
At the same time, the voices you're about to hear, taken together, evoke the vast range of perspective that makes up the Roman Catholic present — spanning profound differences on liturgy, social and gender ethics, and the meaning and makeup of the priesthood. These voices also underscore the fluidity of the very notion of Catholic identity, especially in the West. They illuminate the human impact of the cathartic and still unfolding legacy of the Second Vatican Council.
Listen for yourself, and read from the entire collection of personal essays on our Web site. We've organized them by location and by theme, and they're still coming in. Add your voice, if you would, to this conversation that did not begin and will not end with our radio broadcast. It is a thrilling and revealing experience to immerse oneself in this "lived theology" which, like all discernment about ultimate truth and revelation, will not be tied up with a bow, every "t" crossed and every "i" dotted, in our lifetime. It will continue to show itself, and I'm delighted that we can host a small part of that unfolding.
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Our dynamic map continues to grow as people continue to respond. Read and listen to their stories, and see the developing make-up of the Catholic Church from the U.S. to Chile to Northern Ireland from a first-person perspective.