Convention highlights changing face of priesthood, laity

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — Priests from across the country met in Nashville April 23-26 to learn about and discuss “The Emerging Church of the 21st Century,” the theme for the 44th annual convention of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils.

Speakers addressed a range of topics including immigration and multiculturalism in the church today; how American Catholics engage religion in modern-day secular society; and the changing nature of priestly ministry.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers, Jerome Baggett, a sociologist and professor of religion and society at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, relayed his findings about American Catholics’ struggle to live faithfully amidst the challenges of the modern world. Baggett’s talk drew largely from research that was eventually distilled into his 2009 book, “Sense of the Faithful: How American Catholics Live their Faith.”

For that, he conducted hundreds of interviews at six disparate parishes in the San Francisco Bay area, and included “everybody,” he said: Anglo, Latino, Asian, African-American, men, women, rich, poor, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, urban, suburban. Baggett wanted to look at “what is happening rather than what you or I think ought to happen,” in the faith lives of ordinary Catholics.

“It’s messy, but it’s worth paying attention to,” he said.

Baggett addressed the pastoral challenges of pluralism, authority and traditionalism, presenting the priests gathered with “conversational shards” of interviews to illuminate these ideas. He noted that he was not passing judgment on the findings, but was presenting them to the priests “for your discernment.”

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