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“Ladies and gentleman, this is the most rapid, most sweeping, most profound demographic transformation of Catholicism in its 2,000-year history.

By Lou Jacquet BOARDMAN – The challenges and problems facing the Catholic Church in the United States are quite unlike the challenges and problems facing the Church elsewhere in the world, a nationally known speaker told the First Friday Club of Greater Youngstown Sept. But Allen, moving around with microphone in hand as he extemporaneously shared facts and anecdotes drawn from his extensive world travels as a journalist covering religion, had the audience in rapt attention with his humor and surprising insights into the booming worldwide growth of Catholicism – and this at a time when the Church seems to be contracting with the closing of schools and parishes in many dioceses across the United States.

Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter newspaper and the journalist who covered the recent papal trip to the United States on television for CNN, brought that message to the Mahoning Valley during a luncheon talk on “Ten Mega-Trends in Catholicism.” Time permitted discussion of only four, and space here permits coverage of only two.

“I’m here to talk to you today about no less a prodigious subject than the future of the Roman Catholic Church,” Allen began.

“Now the truth is, I don’t cast horoscopes, I don’t have visions, I don’t study animal entrails, I have no better claim than anyone else in this room to knowing the future of Roman Catholicism in the 21st century.” But looking into the future is justified, he said, because it tells us a great deal about the present.

“It forces us to sort through the flotsam and jetsam of isolated events and random news headlines, to try to see past the momentary things that capture our attention and try to get our hands around the forces that are truly most fundamental, most pregnant with consequence in terms of shaping the Catholic future.” Allen added one caveat: his discussion, he said, was “description rather than prescription,” suggesting that these are the forces at work shaping the Church, no matter what people think about those trends.

A world Church The first mega-trend to be noted, according to Allen, is the emergence of a “world Church,” a term he used to describe a Catholic Church that is no longer dominated by Europe and North America but is now “truly global in size.” He backed up that assertion with statistics.In 1900, he said, there were 266 million Catholics in the world, of whom 200 million lived in Europe and North America.In 2000, there were 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, of whom 720 million lived in the “Global South” – Africa, Asia and Latin America.Allen said there are four points that hold up in terms of “what we are likely to be seeing and hearing and experiencing with our brothers and sisters in the Global South”: southern Catholicism is morally conservative but politically liberal the thought world of the Church in the Global South is rooted in Bible narratives, not academic theology.“There is an enormous emphasis on the supernatural…miracles, wonders, visions, signs, healings and exorcisms…are everyday stuff in the southern Church” the problems of the Church in the Global South are different from those of the European and North American Church.The former faces a population explosion and does not have enough facilities; they also have more seminarians than they can educate (see sidebar) southern Catholic leaders “play a very strong political role in the affairs of their cultures by our northern standards of church/state separation”.