Who else but Rocco could put it all together?
Catholics — their presence increased nearly 60 percent since 1990 — have eclipsed Evangelicals to become the state’s largest religious group. In a matter of years, three of its dioceses have erupted to comprise more than a million members, each reflecting five-or-sixfold expansions over the last three decades. On a 25 percent growth in general population since 2000, the Dallas-Fort Worth “metroplex” is now home to nearly 2 million of the faithful in what’s just become the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area. Along the border, a majority of Brownsville’s 1.1 million Catholics are younger than 25; out East, rural Tyler’s taken to ordaining more priests than New York, and in the capital, Austin’s church of half a million — projected to double within a decade — is perhaps the Stateside church’s most energetic outpost, boasting the nation’s most celebrated Catholic campus ministry, to boot.
On the institutional front, the seminaries are expanding, freshly-built “mega-churches” are teeming, and local RCIA classes routinely set national benchmarks. By and large, the model of church is a decidedly post-Conciliar, 21st century one, blending Africans, Anglos, Asians and Latinos — each mostly migrants of some sort — into cohesive, vibrant communities. In a first, Rome’s designated headquarters for asignificant cross-country project lies not along the Northeast corridor,but in Houston, where the dedication of a new cathedral (above) since the last visit shut Downtown streets as an army priests processed toward it four across. Each named auxiliaries in their early forties, the last decade has seen four homegrown priests succeed each other as the nation’s youngest bishop. And of course, in the ultimate reflection of “the dynamic growth of Catholicism in the southern part of the United States, and especially in” this second-largest of them, for the first time its group crosses the “threshold of the Apostles” led by a figure in scarlet, one told by Benedict on his elevation that “Texas needs a cardinal.”
It is a reminder, I think, of hope and renewal — and one we desperately need these days.