Terrorism, an economic downturn and uncertainty about the future have produced a wave of spiritual renewal among Roman Catholics in the metropolitan area.
The leader of the Archdiocese of Washington is urging priests and parishioners to reach out to those who have turned to the church for guidance to counter wartime anxieties.
“We’re all living in some type of foxhole,” says Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.
He took control of the diocese in January 2001, and since then the 71-year-old cleric has visited each of the 140 parishes in the District and five southeastern Maryland counties.
Cardinal McCarrick also has seen the number of people identifying themselves as Roman Catholics increase an estimated 20 percent to 600,000, largely because long-absent churchgoers have turning to religion to cope with the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“We have to make sure that what we’re saying is relevant to today’s world. There are people who feel the need to come to the Lord,” Cardinal McCarrick says.
Toward that end, Cardinal McCarrick is looking for ways to develop new parishes and Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the growing new subdivisions where he believes that 20 percent to 25 percent of new residents may be Catholic.
Within a year he expects the archdiocese to begin a major development campaign. He hopes to build on the support garnered by the annual Catholic Charities campaign, which raised $10 million in 2001 at the parish level. The money represented half the agency’s annual budget, enabling it to serve 80,000 clients.
Much of that money came from middle-income families in suburban Washington parishes. Cardinal
McCarrick is hoping those people will be open to the prospects of their sons and daughters becoming priests and nuns.
“The vocations are going to come from those working-class parishes,” says Cardinal McCarrick, who has created a new seminary to train young men for the priesthood. The 10 students now attending will not be eligible for ordination for six to eight years. Within the past year, Cardinal McCarrick has presided at the funerals of eight priests.
The seminary places a major emphasis on Spanish language proficiency and missionary studies. Many of those new priests will minister to the region’s fast-growing Hispanic population settling in older blue-collar neighborhoods in the District and close-in Maryland suburbs.
“Failing to bridge the language and cultural divide when they come looking for the church would be a real tragedy,” Cardinal McCarrick says.
In addition to assuming the role of archbishop one year ago, Cardinal McCarrick was elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope John Paul II in February. He also has cultivated relationships with members of Congress and other government leaders, many of whom are not Catholic. Within five days of his inauguration, President Bush, a Methodist, visited Cardinal McCarrick’s official residence in Hyattsville for a get-acquainted audience.
Cardinal McCarrick has used such meetings to champion the church’s positions on various issues, including opposition to stem-cell research. He also has called repeatedly for “just and moral” conduct in the current war on terrorism.
Those rules allow for the defense of the nation and its people and the destruction of organizations such as the al Qaeda terrorist network, while advocating the protection of the innocent from bombing, devastation and hardship.
“The government has been very respectful of what we’ve been trying to preach,” Cardinal McCarrick says.