Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Days Aren't Coming -- They're Already Here

Given the tenor of outra -- er, reaction -- to no shortage of things these days, if you heard a church official say "At about 60,000 to 70,000, we stopped counting," you'd easily be forgiven for thinking the figure an estimate of defections... and lowballed, at that.

In at least one instance, though, think again.

It never gets anywhere near the coverage it merits, but the Stateside church's largest annual pilgrimage took flight again earlier this month as, for yet another August weekend, the 33rd Marian Days (above) lived up to its legend as roughly 80,000 Vietnamese-American Catholics swelled Carthage, Missouri (usual pop. 15,000) for the latest edition of the festival started in 1978 by a recently-migrated religious community which, having received a former seminary in the Heartland as its new home-base, sought to give thanks for the freedom it found on these shores.

For the better part of five days, young and old alike sleeping in tents throughout, the Days see the US church's widely-dispersed, intensely-devoted Vietnamese diaspora gather from all points for a long weekend marked by everything from reunions to food-fairs to concerts... and, above all, the rites of faith.

Put best, here's a clip from the campout's climactic closing Mass (wait 'til the camera pans around):

…and procession…

…and even breakdancing:

Beyond the staggering turnout -- the crowd was larger than the memberships of a good quarter of American Catholicism's 197 dioceses -- the backdrop to this year's Days was even more rich than usual: back in the motherland, after years of tension between the Vietnamese church and the country's Communist regime, relations have taken some notable turns over recent months with the resignation (widely thought under pressure) of Hanoi's outspoken archbishop and his replacement with an older prelate perceived as less critical of the government, then a bilateral accord reached in late June that'll soon see the appointment of a special Vatican representative, all of it topped by the Holy See's subsequent announce that B16 has chosen religious freedom as the focus for the church's 2012 World Day of Peace, observed each New Year's Day.

Closer to home, while Marian Days invariably underscore, on the broad scale, the changing face of the US church to an epochal degree last seen nearly two centuries ago, they especially highlight a key thread of the shift: that the national fold's rising leadership will be disproportionately Asian.

Led by Filipino, Vietnamese and Korean contingents, though the bloc comprises just four percent of the country's 68 million-member fold, on average, over a tenth of these shores' priestly ordination classes are of Asian roots. Add in that, with non-Anglos already comprising a majority of American Catholics under 25, recognizing cultural diversity in the church is one of the five national superpriorities agreed upon by the US bishops for the mid-range future, and you're probably thinking this has all the makings of a "must" event for real-time, wall-to-wall coverage in the Catholic press....

And if you're thinking that, per usual, you'd be beyond disappointed.

Regardless, in a time when the four marks of this church far too often appear -- and are communicated -- to be some combination of politics, protest, scandal and all-around bloodsport, the fact that some 70,000-plus of the faithful spent a scorching, rain-soaked weekend engaged in none of the above (and, if anything, quite the opposite) might just be these days' most extraordinary thing going.

On a context note, while the Days dominate the summer scene, the southwest Missouri festival still pales in comparison to the national fold's biggest family reunion of all: the 36-hour blowout at a suburban Chicago chapel on the 12 December feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe which, last time around, drew somewhere around 200,000, closing roads for miles... and all on a frigid midwinter night, to boot.

In the meantime, as the summer begins to wind down, it's worth recalling that -- press coverage or lack thereof -- recent months have yielded an epic moment for the ongoing sea-change of American Catholicism... a shift which, as never before, has made it all the way to the top:

It might be quiet for now... but, church, whatta year.