Despite the Challenges in our Church in America, There is Still Hope

09-03-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Robert Aliunzi

Dear Friends,

Last Friday, August 25, 2023, five men were formally admitted by Bishop Dolan to begin their three-year formation to the permanent diaconate. This included Peter Parian, one of our own parishioners. He was accompanied to the ceremony by his lovely wife Eva and children Paula and Christian, and me. Please, let us keep Peter and his four companions in our prayers.

As I participated in that very inspiring liturgy (Rite of Admission to Candidacy for holy orders), I was struck by a very encouraging hope that despite the rough time our Churches here in the United States has been through due to among others, the Clergy sexual abuse, there is hope emerging. To be sure, the said clergy sexual abuse had a great negative impact on vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life. Also, as a result of it, many Catholics either fell away from the Church or stopped coming to Church altogether.

To give further credence to this claim, according to an article published five years ago by the “Our Sunday Visitor News Weekly”, (August 9, 2019), a 2018 survey from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, 26.1 million said they were raised Catholic but no longer identify with the Faith. In many dioceses, a good number of parishes are understaffed. There were 36,580 priests in the United States in 2018 which is fewer than the 59,192 priests in 1970. The landscape may have slightly changed today. Nevertheless, compared to the vibrant U.S. Catholic communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — largely influenced by the influx of immigrants from Catholic countries such as Ireland, Italy, and Poland — dioceses have struggled to maintain their numbers. This crisis, therefore, did not forebode well for the future of our Church.

However, according to this same survey, something contrary was evidently happening in some four dioceses here in our country which gives great hope for the future of our Church. In these four fastest growing dioceses in the United States, there is an unquestioned demographic shift taking place with many of them experiencing an exponential explosion in the number of Catholics — in many cases exceeding a million total people — causing them to need new parishes and new schools. This includes our own Diocese of Phoenix which is one of the said four largest and fastest growing dioceses across the country, with Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, Diocese of Dallas, and Diocese of Orange being the others.

Established in 1969, the Diocese of Phoenix covers almost 44,000 square miles, four counties and one Indian reservation. Currently, our diocese boasts of almost 1.7 million Catholics, who are served by 138 diocesan priests, 78 extern priests, 93 priests of religious orders as well as 222 permanent deacons. There are nine religious brothers, over 138 religious sisters and over 36 seminarians for the diocese.

As many of you may recall, originally the Diocese of Phoenix belonged to the territory of the Diocese of Tucson. When it was established fifty-five years ago, the Catholic population in the diocese was just about 200,000. Since then, it has far exceeded this number. This rapid growth of the diocese largely can be attributed to an influx of immigrants from Latin America, the Philippines, Africa, and other parts of the world.

One of the more remarkable aspects about the facts and figures of the state of the diocese is the increasing number of permanent deacons. “We have a good number of deacons for a variety of reasons,” said Deacon Doug Bogart, associate director of education and formation for the Office of the Diaconate. The Diocese of Phoenix was one of the first dioceses in the United States to adopt the permanent diaconate after it was restored at the Second Vatican Council, so Deacon Bogart claims it has, “a rich history of men stepping forward for this vocation.”
A large number of these deacons have moved from other places, having been ordained in other dioceses. “With the strong economy and plenty of sunshine, lots of folks want to move here, and that number includes deacons as well,” Bogart said.

As with most dioceses, Phoenix still has a great need for more clerics — both deacons and priests. The rapid growth of the diocese has made this a more pressing issue. “Under Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s leadership, (and now of Bishop Dolan), the Catholic faith is strong and vibrant here, and good men naturally respond to give of themselves in service,” Deacon Bogart said. “Bishop has made a real commitment to solid adult catechesis through the Kino Catechetical Institute, and so men are able to learn and fall deeper in love with their faith.”

The Kino Catechetical Institute is an adult faith-formation program which provides “foundational formation in Catholic doctrine, equipping the laity to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship,” according to our diocesan website. The Institute specifically offers programs for Catholic school teachers, catechists, aspiring deacons, and anyone interested in learning more about the Faith.

The diocese currently has over 22 men in formation for the permanent diaconate which now includes Peter Parian from our own parish. This is just one sign of the phenomenal growth and vibrancy of the Church in the Diocese of Phoenix despite the crisis. I am so grateful to God that our own parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, is a part of this great news as we too are beginning to experience a surge in our membership here in our parish. I, therefore, invite you OLMC, to proudly stand up and be counted in this resurgence by inviting more of your families, friends, and neighbors back to the Church if they have fallen away!

I love you, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel!