Catholic numbers are booming in the Bible Belt

While former Catholic strongholds like Boston and Philadelphia are closing churches and schools, Catholic numbers are booming in the Bible Belt states of the southern United States, a mainly Protestant area.

Atlanta diocese has seen its number of registered parishioners grow from nearly 322,000 in 2002 to one million in 2012. Charleston has expanded by 50 per cent in the last decade, while Charlotte and Little Rock have grown by a third.

“Instead of us closing parishes and closing schools, we’re doing the opposite. We’re in total growth mode,” Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor for the diocese of Knoxville, to the National Catholic Register.

When Knoxville was established in 1988 it had 37 parishes. It has since added 14, the number of parishioners has doubled, and it expects to have 23 men in graduate seminary next year.

Deacon Smith said Catholics in the South, where they are a decided minority, must constantly defend their faith and, as a result, come to cherish it.

In a region where churches sit on seemingly every street corner and billboards belt out Bible verses and calls for repentance, local Catholics say they have found fertile ground for the renewal of the Church.

“Our Protestant brothers and sisters have done us a great favour. Talking about faith here in the South is like eating, breathing, and sleeping,” said Randy Hain, co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life, an online magazine.

“There’s an openness about faith here which makes it easier to be open about your faith if you’re Catholic.”

Lisa Wheeler, founder of a Catholic marketing firm in the Atlanta area, said dialogue with Protestants has produced a steady stream of Catholic converts, who bring enthusiasm and passion for their faith.

Hain said that if Catholics in other areas were as open about their faith as Southerners are, there would be a resurgence in the Church.

“Let’s worry less about offending others,” he said. “Let’s worry more about practising our faith.”


National Catholic Register

Image: Diocese of Charlotte

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