Discovering that the universal Church is (wow!) universal.
I’ve just spent eight days with Catholics from around the world. I keep repeating that line to myself because I’m still incredulous. It was one of those “somebody pinch me” situations that are almost too good to be true. But it is true, and I’m eternally grateful for the experience.
During these days I was in Rome, participating in a seminar for international journalists at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. The seminar was called “The Church Up Close: Covering Catholicism in the Age of Francis.” True to its title, we really did see the Church up close, as representatives of the various congregations and councils of the Holy See introduced us to their mission and work and we toured the iconic site of the center of Catholicism.
The idea was to show us the ins and outs and nooks and crannies of the Church, and we certainly did see them. The days were jam-packed with insights, observations, and information. About two-thirds of the way through the seminar, I jokingly texted to my family that I “didn’t think that this pathetic old brain could take in so much!” And that was a total understatement.
In addition to seeing the Church up close from an academic standpoint, I experienced her deeply from the human standpoint. By that I mean that I discovered the universality of the Church through the other journalists who attended the seminar. They came from the nooks and crannies of the world, so to speak—Nigeria, Malta, Japan, Ireland, the United Kingdom, China, Australia, Ghana, Trinidad, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Macao, Spain, Angola, Iran, and United States. It was an amazing and enlightening experience.
It felt surreal to be sitting in a lecture hall with Catholics from every continent on earth except Antarctica. Time and again I’ve heard the Church referred to as universal, and I thought that I knew what that meant. Attending the seminar made the theoretical a reality for me.
We lunched together and most evenings ventured out in small groups for drinks or dinner. We chatted about world events, the work we do in our respective countries, our families, and what the Church is like at home. Not all of the journalists were Catholic, and that was also a gift because it gave me the opportunity to see the Church through their eyes. It was fascinating to see that we shared all the essentials in common and yet remained very different in the particulars. We, of course, came from different cultures, climates and systems of government. Our histories were different and often our world views were, too. But what we had in common—and oh-so-beautiful to see—was our love for the Faith.
That, in reality, is the universal Church. Although we hailed from twenty different countries, we had the same home in Catholicism. We held many different positions in the media, but the same mission of informing the public about this incredible institution called the Catholic Church. As I came to know the various participants, I was reminded of the missionaries, beginning with the Apostles and carrying on through the generations of saints and martyrs, who brought the Faith from the foot of the Cross to the ends of the world. During the eight days of the seminar, I journeyed with the missionaries to foreign lands, and thanked God for their heroism. If not for them, I would not have had the blessing of being among my fellow Catholics from distant lands.
We were all so very different, and all so very much the same. That is the universal, Catholic, Church.
Marge Fenelonis a Catholic author, columnist, and speaker and a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life, including Strengthening Your Family: a Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013). Find out more about Marge at www.margefenelon.com.