It’s been interesting to me to think about the different ways our universal Church is experienced and expressed. We are one, yet the flavor of each region comes through in how faith is lived out and how challenges are met. These are just some of my anecdotal observations through personal travel and information from others (including some which I have gleaned from my favorite bloggers). They are not meant to be profound universal truths nor definitive statements, just casual observations of (mostly) places where I have been. Please don’t think I am generalizing entire populations.
The Pacific Northwest: relatively sparsely attended but with a very devout and active core group; facing the challenges and ridicule of strident atheists and secular humanists is a factor in the daily living out of faith. Perhaps as a result of this surrounding culture, the people tend to be more liberal in their understanding of the faith. Dress is casual. There seems to be an adequate supply of priests and seminarians here, unlike other parts of the country. We are blessed.
Big City California: I see packed churches–huge parishes that are fairly impersonal, and very traditional. There are lots of ethnic traditions, particularly Hispanic and Filipino in the places I have been. I see very active outreach and social justice programs. It is very heartening. Most of the churches have a very modern architectural style, and are often newly built in suburban areas. The header photo is of a brand new church in Southern California.
California small town: My observation is that there is a huge Latino influence in these areas. The Spanish language Masses are packed, standing room only. It is very traditional, very conservative. Women cover their heads and all dress in their best. The Mass is very long, many people remain on their knees for most of the celebration.
Texas: It’s such a huge state that probably has as much diversity as California does. Some areas are very much imbued with Latin spirituality and traditions. I was surprised to find out that Pentecostalism and fundamentalist challenges to our church are more common there, as I have never experienced that personally.
East Coast: there is a wealth of ethnic tradition. There are public processions with statues in the streets on feast days. Paradoxically, the Church is sometimes viewed as something one participates in only on special occasions, and Sunday Mass is not always well attended. There is a great shortage of priests, and parishes are being closed down and/or consolidated at a surprising rate.
Georgia: I hear that the churches in some cities are absolutely packed with worshippers. Like California city churches, the parishes are very large with thousands of families registered and 2 or 3 priests to minister to them.
Mississippi: The churches there are still segregated! Unbelievable. Mass attendees were dressed up very nicely for Mass.
Chicago: I’ve been told that the churches are nearly empty on Sundays, perhaps because the faithful have left the city for outlying areas. Most of the remaining parishioners are elderly.
So, what does this have to do with anything? Nothing. I just think it is interesting to learn how differently people in other areas of the country experience their Catholicism, because I had foolishly taken for granted at one time that we all lived the details the same way. I appreciate more how important it is that we all have the same wording and formats, so that our church and its liturgy can truly be universal. I have felt at home in all churches during my travels because of this.