New pope embodies Church's future: author
Catholic author and scholar George Weigel believes that Pope Francis embodies the type of Catholicism that is needed for the Church to thrive in the modern cultural context.
"I think Pope Francis embodies the Church's turn into the evangelical Catholicism of the future in a profound way," Weigel told CNA.
"If he can reform the Curia and turn it into a more effective instrument of the New Evangelization, while concurrently being the Church's principal evangelist, he will have done precisely what the Church needs in these first decades of the new millennium," he said.
Weigel is the author of the official biography of Pope John Paul II and numerous other books on contemporary Catholicism.
Weigel also offered his thoughts on the "Global South," the area where the Church has grown the most in recent decades, which also happens to include the new Pope's homeland of Argentina.
"I think there is real opportunity now in Latin America to move in this direction," he said, pointing to a 2007 document issued by the bishops of Latin America that "marked the real turning point from institutional maintenance, Counter-Reformation Catholicism, in Latin America, which had counted on the ambient culture to carry the faith for 500 years.
In his view, "'Catholic Lite' is finished. It's going to take another 20 years for some people to figure that out, but it's over ... And for a very simple reason. It doesn't work. It's incapable of engaging this toxic culture and inspiring people to embrace the full symphony of Catholic truth and then share that."
When it comes to Pope Francis, Weigel believes that he understands this reality well.
Catholic News Agency
Pope Francis and British marriage debate
The new papacy is already proving relevant to the people of Britain, suggests the Archbishop of Westminster, as that nation undergoes a debate on the future of marriage.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio stood against the Argentine government's proposed legislation to legalise same-sex "marriage." Similarly, the British people are seeking to defend marriage at a time when politicians are actively pushing for legislation to redefine it.
Archbishop Nichols commented on the difficulty faced by British proponents of traditional marriage.
"In Argentina ... I imagine the culture is fundamentally Catholic, whereas in Britain it's not. In Britain, we do speak much more from the minority position, and in that sense that can be used against us. It's not too difficult for public voices to dismiss our arguments, saying that 'Well, they're the Catholics, and they are easily put to one side.'
"As [same-sex marriage] legislation comes into effect ... there is quite a deep unease about its possible ramifications in terms of religious freedom, in terms of freedom of expression, and maybe in terms of the shared common fundamental perception of what marriage is about."
Catholic marriage prep program bucks trends
With more couples choosing to use contraception and live together before marriage, the Catholic definition of marriage is more at risk than ever, says Christian Meert of the Office of Marriage & Family Life in the US Diocese of Colorado Springs.
The problem for many couples, he said, is often a fundamental lack of knowledge about what Christ and the Catholic Church require of married couples, he said.
"Everything they are getting from the media and the rest of society is going against everything we believe in. The people we are getting have a strong desire to do the right thing ... but in general their religious background is very shallow."
He and his wife see this trend constantly as they work with couples both through their office and through their business - CatholicMarriagePrep.com, an online marriage preparation course designed for couples who are separated by distance or schedules and can't take the classes together at their local church.
The couples who go through their preparation program often come from broken homes, Meert said. While many have a strong desire to live in accordance to the Church, they often are unsure what that means. That's where he and his wife step in. One of the best ways to save traditional marriages, they believe, is to ensure that there are more strong marriages based on the teachings of the Church.
After seven years and mentoring more than 10,000 couples from countries around the world, Meert said that the program is seeing results. In 2012, 78 percent of couples anonymously polled through the site after taking the program said they planned to abstain from sex until marriage.
"When you talk about abstinence, the general numbers are that 70 to 80 percent of couples are in cohabitation and 90 percent have premarital sex," he said. "When you get the incredible number of 78 percent that want to remain abstinent, it means that they really want to do it right."
Also according to the survey, 64 percent of couples in 2012 said they planned to use natural family planning in their marriage.
The Meerts' program has won the endorsement of bishops who find the content sound and in accordance with the teachings of the Church. In February, Diocese of Colorado Springs' Bishop Michael Sheridan endorsed the program in a letter sent to every bishop in the country.
"It is a comprehensive and well-designed program that stresses the spiritual and sacramental dimensions of marriage and deals in a very straightforward and orthodox manner with those issues that threaten Holy Matrimony, especially contraception and cohabitation," wrote Bishop Sheridan.
Catholic News Agency
Churches "must be beautiful to reflect faith"
Church buildings have a responsibility to reflect God's beauty, says US architect and author Duncan Stroik, because they help impart the Catholic faith to the world.
"You learn your faith through the (church) building; they're sermons in stone, and that's why they're so important," Stroik, a professor at the University of Notre Dame's School of Architecture, told CNA recently.
"There's no question in my mind that the architecture we built in the last 40 years did not help us in retaining the faith of the young, and didn't do a great job in evangelising," added Stroik, author of the recent book The Church Building as a Sacred Place.
"Generations of people have grown up in these banal buildings, which have taught them either nothing, or the wrong things about the faith, and that's why architecture is so important."
Stroik's new book is meant to guide priests, parishioners, patrons and architects as they set out to renovate existing churches or build new structures entirely. The book is composed of numerous essays outlining principles of church buildings, examining the history of both classical and modernist architecture, and looking to the future of sacred architecture.
"I'd like to put the book in context, in the sense that I see a huge renaissance of sacred architecture in this country that's taken place over the last 20 years [so] this book is coming at a time when we've had a great sea change in the way Catholics think about their churches," he said.
"Most parishes want something that looks like a church [and] there's a desire for beauty. Now how do we do it? And I like to think this book can be part of that," he said, to help those who want to build beautiful, traditional churches.
Stroik said that while there have been "great successes" in Catholic architecture in the past 20 years, still more remains to be done: "We need to do a better job. We haven't built a new church in the last 50 years that is as good as the best things we built in 1920, or 1820."
"I'd like to raise the standards ... we really need to raise our eyesight, to look on the great things of the past ... Our goal should be to be as good, or better, than Baltimore, or Chartres."
In his book, Stroik writes that he intends to move Catholics away from "merely the construction of 'worship spaces'" and towards the creation of sacred architecture: "Walking into a church, our vision is meant to be of the heavenly city [so] there's a different kind of vision; it's a view to the world as it should be, to the heavenly realm."
Stroik hopes The Church Building as a Sacred Place will impact on patrons of sacred architecture, without whom the creation of churches to rival the Baltimore and Philadelphia cathedrals will not be possible.
"You need a great patron, one who is informed and educated about art and architecture, and who cares about and wants the best, and a really great architect, who is supported, and challenged, by the patron."
Catholic News Agency