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Posted April 3, 2007

Taken from American Catholics Today by William D. Antonio, Davidson, Hoge and Cautier, which is already posted on our website

Strengthening Catholic Identity

Catholic identity is strongly correlated with commitment to the Church. Thus, an increase in Catholics identification with the Catholic faith can help to increase commitment to the Church.

How can Church leaders increase Catholic identity? One suggestion is to focus attention on the core elements and distinctiveness of the Catholic faith. Some aspects of being Catholic are both unique and inspiring. In an experimental survey of young adults in the Washington, D.C., area, we listed eighteen ways that Catholicism is unique or nearly unique, then asked the respondents to say which ways are “sources of pride or inspiration” to them. The top four were “Catholicism has devotion to Mary the Mother of God,” “Catholicism believes in the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ,” “Catholicism offers sacraments every week,” and “Catholicism has a pope who speaks to world leaders, espousing Christian values and ideals.”

In the same survey, we asked the young people which persons in all of Church history, from the time of Jesus until now, are the most inspiring to them. The clear winners were Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II; in third place was St. Francis of Assisi. Here we have an initial inventory of aspects of Catholicism that are both unique and inspiriing.

If we were to expand this exercise to include other generations of Catholics, other names and concepts might be added to the list. Archbishop Oscar Romero, Pope Benedict XVI, Cesar Chavez, Mother Angelica, Pope John XXIII, the Berrigan brothers, St Elizabeth Seton, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Dorothy Day might also be mentioned. Other inspiring goals might include the need to close the gap between the rich and poor, the need to reduce the number of abortions, the need to work for peace in the world, and the need to reduce use of the death penalty.

Although not all Catholics would agree with each idea or person on the list, the list would call attention to the core teachings and distinctiveness of the Catholic tradition. It also would indicate the diversity of lifestyles and religious worldviews that are found within the Church. The list would provide opportunities for older and younger generations to highlight the people and ideas that are most important to them and would invite people on the religious right and religious left to acknowledge one another’s icons.

If the Church were to celebrate these ideas, heroes, and heroines even more than it does at present, there is a good chance that its efforts would lead to even greater identification with the faith. Because one’s self-concept has behavioral implications, it is quite likely that people with elevated awareness of Catholicism’s distinctiveness would seek opportunities to participate in the Church. By demonstrating how the Church has supported these ideas and how important a role it has played in the lives of these heroes and heroines, Church leaders will have planted seeds taht are likely to result in heightened levels of commitment.