Often, when I attend Mass at my tiny suburban parish, I feel as if the Catholic Church is dying. Sometimes, if I go with our 11-year-old, he and I are the youngest people in a church of mostly empty pews. My husband and I face the challenge of raising our children in the faith when most of our neighbors do not attend any houses of worship and their children, unsurprisingly, are avowed atheists by the time they hit puberty.
I have an entirely new perspective on the fate of our faith after spending four-plus hours yesterday as a volunteer cashier at the coffee bar in the basement of the Manhattan Center, where the New York Encounter 2011 is taking place. The Encounter is a free four-day cultural festival sponsored by the ecclesiastical group Communion and Liberation. It's showing me young adults who are the next generation of faith-filled Catholics.
Our customers (our 14-year-old son expertly navigated the fancy espresso machine while a group of Italian graduate students served American cofffee and tea) were mostly young people in their 20s. I met fresh-faced seminarians from Catholic University. A young mother of three from Houston. A college student who had flown up from Miami. A boarding school student from Massachusetts. A young couple from southern Indiana. And many many more.
I was most moved by the flock of at least two dozen Sisters in traditional habits. Were they Dominicans? I accosted one of the young ladies as she headed to the restroom behind me. No, they were Sisters of Life, a contemplative/active religious community of women founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O’Connor for the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life. There now are 78 women in this religious community. Sister Benedicta is a novitiate. She chose her name after Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr, who many of us know as Edith Stein.
Sister Benedicta is a chemistry graduate from Williams College. Her face glowed as she spoke to me about her vocation. She was excited about attending a talk by the daughter of Jérôme LeJeune, the French geneticist and pediatrician who discovered the genetic marker for Down's Syndrome (more on that later). When I told her I would pray for her order, she reached into the pocket of her habit and handed me a card. I will remember her face and pray for her - and all the young Catholics I am encountering this weekend.
Grant them courage and vision to serve your people
May their lives and service call your people to respond to the presence
of your Spirit among us that, faithful to the Gospel and hope of Jesus the Christ,
we may: announce glad tidings to the poor proclaim liberty to captives,
set prisoners free and renew the face of the earth.