The Church in the Third World

10 01 2009


The common idea amongst orthodox Christians in the West now is that the Third World will be the salvation of Christianity. Many of us in the Catholic Church in this country have the privilege of being served by priests from developing countries in our parishes. It is well known that the only thing that is keeping the Anglican Communion from collapsing into a Gnostic sect is the presence of its churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And generally, Christians are amazed by the fervor of people embracing Christianity in places where the words of Christ are being heard for the first time. Few however think of why this is the case. Why is there so much enthusiasm for traditional Christianity in places that have not traditionally been Christian, and why is it dying in many places where Christianity is precisely what built civilization?

One of the more simplistic and edifying answers is of course, “grace”. The numbers do matter in this regard. Baptisms do bring masses of pagans out of the darkness and into the light of Christ. More people hearing His words and eating and drinking His body and blood mean more sanctifying grace and supernatural charity in the world. For this we must be thankful. But if it were just a numbers game, just an issue of theological forces at work, one can then ask what happened in post-war Europe, where the numbers were far greater, the fervor as deep in many places, and the doctrine impeccable. (I once met a priest who was ordained at the largest ordination ceremony ever at a Eucharistic congress in Barcelona in the 1950’s. 800 priests were ordained in one ceremony; so many it had to be done in the soccer stadium.) In spite of all this, the Church collapsed, and the numbers here as well don’t lie. Will the same happen in the developing world? And in how long? In my estimation, being a student of the developing world and social transformation, I would answer, “not long at all”.
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