THE FUTURE CHURCH: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, by
John L. Allen, Jr.
Doubleday. 469 pp. $28.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication. Between 1986
and 1992 he served as communications
director at the international headquarters
in Rome of the Order of Friars Minor.
JOHN ALLEN is one of today's most
highly respected writers regarding the
Catholic Church. Vatican correspondent
and Web columnist ("Word From
Rome") for National Catholic Reporter, he
has also served as an analyst for CNN
and National Public Radio. Having traveled
to 40 countries on all
continents and interviewed
hundreds of local Church
leaders, Allen is frequently
invited to address diocesan
and national Catholic meetings.
"The aim of this book,"
he writes, "is to survey the
most important currents
shaping the Catholic Church
today, and to look down the
line at how they might play
out during the rest of the
21st century." Allen focuses on trends,
not on headlines. He devotes separate
chapters to each trend. Another chapter
explains why he does not see 25
recurring news items as trends.
The 10 trends are a world Church,
evangelical Catholicism, Islam, the new
demography, expanding lay roles, the
biotech revolution, globalization, ecology,
multipolarism and Pentecostalism.
Allen describes what is driving each
trend and its impact on the Catholic
Church. A "What's Happening" section
is followed by "What It Means,"
possible lines of development ranging
from near-certain to long shots.
"Anybody hoping for a straight, one-way
line of development in the upside-down
Church will be disappointed.
Catholicism is too big and too complex
not to contain conflicting tendencies.
It's not really a question of
which way the Church will go, but
which ways—and sometimes that
movement will be pulling in opposite
directions," Allen says.
In 1900, 25 percent of Catholics lived
outside Europe and North America
("the North" for Allen). In 2000, 75
percent of Catholics lived in Latin
America, Africa and Asia ("the South"
Allen cites estimates that there are
more Christians than Communists in
the People's Republic of China. Christians
and Muslims each
comprise about 45 percent
of Africa's population.
He writes that mainline
liberal Christians want to
reach a détente with modernity,
evangelicals want to
convert it and Pentecostals
want to set it on fire. Each
tendency is represented
within Catholicism today.
According to the World
Christian Database for
2007, there were 1.6 billion
Muslims worldwide and 2.2 billion
Christians. In the CIA World Factbook,
only three of the top 10 Muslim countries
have substantial Arab populations.
Population is growing in the South but
declining in the North. Not one of the
27 European Union countries has a fertility
rate above the replacement level.
Allen sees parish-based nursing programs
as a growing trend in the United
States. In 2005, roughly 80 percent of
the 31,000 lay ecclesial ministers in the
United States were women. A Catholic
woman may well head a Vatican agency
in this century. The exploding field of
bioethics seems to be the most popular
research area for moral theologians.
"In its literal sense," writes Allen,
"globalization refers to the transformation
of local and regional realities
into global ones, uniting the people of
the world in a single global market and
society. Globalization is the 'mother
of all mega-trends.'"
Later he writes, "No concept looms
larger in Catholic environmentalism
than human beings as stewards of creation,
meaning caretakers rather than
masters." He sees urban agriculture as
Multipolarism recognizes Brazil, Russia,
India and China as important
sources of world trends. India's Dalits,
or untouchables, comprise 60 to 75
percent of that country's Catholics.
Many of Brazil's indigenous people are
Catholic. Asia's bishops emphasize the
need to dialogue with that continent's
great cultures, its great religions and
its poor people.
Pentecostalism has a powerful missionary
impulse, helping people experience
the Spirit's power in their lives.
In the North, lukewarm or dissatisfied
Catholics tend to become secularized;
in the South they become Pentecostals.
In the concluding chapter, Allen
writes that if Catholicism is to generate
the imagination needed to meet the
challenges of these trends, "it is not
principally a task for the hierarchy. It
should be carried out in communion
with the Church's leadership, of course,
but it cannot depend upon them."
Rejecting Catholicism's both/and
"genetic predisposition," tribalism
threatens its very communion.
The "Suggestions for Further Reading"
section offers between six and 13
resources for each trend. In places,
Allen's book is longer than this reviewer
felt was necessary, but overall this book
is pure gold.
You can order THE FUTURE CHURCH: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church from St. Francis Bookstore.
THEA'S SONG: The Life of Thea Bowman, by Charlene Smith and
John Feister. Orbis Books. 360 pp. $28.
Reviewed by CECILIA MOORE, Ph.D.,
associate director of the Degree Program of
the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at
Xavier University of Louisiana and assistant
professor of religious studies at the
University of Dayton.
SISTER THEA BOWMAN, F.S.P.A., remains
one of the most beloved and
powerful African-American Catholics
of all time. Those who knew her personally
recall her as friend, teacher,
mentor, leader, preacher, activist, singer,
founder and champion of the marginalized
Many who did not know her directly
feel they did because of the profound
influence she had on people who did
know her. The opportunities for learning
and growth she worked to ensure
for generations to come are her legacies
at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies
at Xavier University in New Orleans,
Louisiana, and at other schools and
colleges at which she taught.
This month marks the 20th anniversary
of her death. Her life of holiness
and grace still seems to speak to us
today. Throughout the United States
there are schools, institutes and scholarships
named for Sister Thea. Many
young women and girls in the African-American community are named Thea
after her. Her beauty and compassion
inspired books and great works of
Given the power Sister Thea still has
to move, challenge and inspire, this
wonderful new biography will be
greeted with great joy and anticipation.
The book was written by Charlene
Smith, a member of her community,
and John Feister, periodicals editor for
this publishing house and on the staff
of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.
The authors of Thea's Song took on a
massive and important task when they
sought to write her biography in a manner
that would "sing." Though Sister
Thea died at 52, she lived a big life and
sang a big song. Getting their hands
around the paper trail she left, their
arms around the people whose lives she
touched and their minds around the
personal, religious and cultural significance
of this African-American Catholic
woman religious was no mean feat.
Smith and Feister mined the tremendous
archive of personal and religious
papers that Sister Thea left to give stunning
and sparkling detail to her incredibly
It seems that Thea's parents,
Dr. Theon and Mrs.
Mary Bowman, had a feeling
from the time their
daughter was born that she
was someone who would do
very special things. The
records they kept of her earliest
years are amazing, as
are the caches of letters Thea
wrote to them in over 30
years of religious life.
In addition to these
sources, Smith and Feister also used
the archives of the Franciscan Sisters of
Perpetual Adoration and the Margaret
Walker Alexander Research Center at
Jackson State University in Mississippi.
They also conducted extensive personal
interviews with friends, teachers and
students of Sister Thea.
The book is animated. The authors
build wonderful historical platforms
on which she returns in her own words.
In Thea's Song, Smith and Feister wisely
choose to use extensive portions
of her letters, articles,
essays, prayers and public
addresses. A definite spiritual
energy comes across in
this volume, and the source
of that energy is Thea's
Another wise choice the
authors made was to give
considerable space in the
biography to develop the
that nurtured and encouraged
her throughout her life. She was
a person who regarded people as central
to her life. To know and appreciate
Sister Thea is to know and appreciate
her wide and diverse circle of family
Finally, Smith and Feister centered
Sister Thea's life in the grand narrative of African-American life in the 20th
century. She was both shaped by and a
shaper of African-American religion,
culture and history. Thea's Song captures
this very well.
This is a book for anyone who wants
to know how the life and faith of one
person can help transform and enrich
a universal Church, the Roman
Catholic Church, and inspire hope and
determination in future generations.
If you did not know Sister Thea or anyone
who knew her personally, read this
book and you will be on your way to
knowing and loving her.
You can order THEA'S SONG: The Life of Thea Bowman from St.
BREAKFAST WITH BENEDICT: Daily Readings, by Pope Benedict XVI,
edited by Bert Ghezzi. Our Sunday
Visitor. 208 pp. $15.95.
Reviewed by ELIZABETH YANK, an avid
reader, homeschool mother and freelance
writer from South Milwaukee.
LET'S FACE IT: We're all busy. We may
have good intentions of
setting aside time for
spiritual reading, but
that doesn't always happen.
But in Breakfast
With Benedict: Daily
Readings, popular author
Bert Ghezzi has compiled
a series of short
meditations from Pope
Benedict XVI that cover
a wide variety of topics,
such as "the beauty of
the liturgy, comforter of
the afflicted, the mission of youth" and
We too easily get caught up in the
world and forget what life is all about.
Reading Benedict XVI restores our focus
on Christ, the good gifts God has
given us, the purpose of our existence.
Drawing on his homilies, speeches,
encyclicals and many books, Ghezzi
introduces us to Pope Benedict on a
level to which we can all relate. Ultimately,
Pope Benedict challenges us to
live more deeply and authentically the
words of Christ.
This book is ideal for setting the tone
for the day or for refocusing our attention
on the higher things during the
day, or for lifting our minds to God's
goodness and grace at the close of the
day, so that our last thoughts may be
peaceful and holy.
One motif Pope Benedict brings up
over and over again is God's merciful
love for us. Many of the pope's reflections
touch on the theme of love or
mention some aspect of love, God's
love for us, our vocation to love, our
need to love God and those around us.
The pope challenges us to love more as
God has loved us—"in God and with
God, I love even the person whom I do
not like or even know."
He begs us to open our hearts to
God's love: "Let no heart be closed to
the omnipotence of [God's] redeeming
love." He pleads with us that God's
love is for us all: "Jesus Christ died and
rose for all; he is our hope—true hope
for every human being."
He asks us to rest secure in God's
love, and to "remain in his love." To
those who are searching for love, he
says, "We were created as social beings
who find fulfillment only
in love—for God and for
While Pope Benedict's
message of love is constant,
the topics he covers
are many: the Holy Spirit,
social conscience, interpreting
the poor, the sacraments
Through it all, Pope
Benedict's approach never
varies. He is kind, gentle and loving,
inviting us all to love God as God loves
In addition to the numerous meditations,
Breakfast With Benedict includes
a brief overview of the pope's life, a
short summary of the themes he
touches on in his many works and a list
of the subjects he addressed during his
visit to the United States in April 2008.
The book closes with a simple prayer
for the pope.
Breakfast With Benedict is a book to
read and reread, not just for breakfast,
but any short pause during the day
when you need a little spiritual refreshment.
You can order BREAKFAST WITH BENEDICT: Daily Readings from St.
ANIMAL KINGDOM, by Pavel Chichikov.
Kaufmann Publishing. 96 pp.
Reviewed by PHILIP C. KOLIN, first
Charles W. Moorman Alumni Distinguished
Professor in the Humanities and a
professor of English at the University
of Southern Mississippi. He is the author
of A Parable of Women, a book of poems.
IT IS SAID that God wrote two books to
help us understand him and each
other—the Book of Holy Writ and the
Book of Nature. With his new volume of
deeply evocative and powerfully
meditative poems, Pavel
Chichikov has opened the
second of God's books and
found many wonders and
abundant instruction there.
As in his earlier three volumes
of poetry, beginning
with Lion Sun in 1999,
Chichikov has anchored his
work to the Catholic way of
seeing things in the natural
world. Emulating St. Francis,
Chichikov looks for the signs
of God's beauty and mystery in his
creatures, great and small.
The 76 poems in this collection focus
on how various species reflect the glory
and order of God's great economy of
being and how they shame us who
have erringly departed from the natural
graces that God instills in his creatures.
God "knows what they need, loves
what they sing/Feeds them and blesses
them all through the winter."
Combining the faith of Noah with
the precision of Linnaeus and the
artistry of Audubon, Chichikov includes
poems on creatures that crawl
and swim as well as those that range
and soar—the span worm and the
insects that look like leaves of beech
("hairy harvestmen"), the caterpillar
(a frequent symbol of humanity's own
transformation) who "feeds on rue,"
a hatchery of fish, fox and cats (who
receive a lot of his attention), a buzzard
"which looks well fed" and birds of
many stripes and sizes.
In beautifully graphic and original
ways, he describes their world of feathers,
claws, wings, webs, fleece, tails
and hooves, beaks and bills, "pointy
snouts," eggs and bones, "beards and
horns," combs and plumes, "dorsal
fin[s] of knives" and "broken sticks and
Awash with color and enticing
design, Chichikov's spiritual menagerie
offers us no less than the "pageant of
creation." We see "chestnut horses,"
rooks with "dusk blue streaks," other
birds with wings like "orange antiphons,"
a "deep rough red fox," grackles
who "fall like drops of black blood."
Each animal evokes from the speaker
a metaphoric title, such as the mouselet
who is the "eyeless
Orpheus" or the centipede
who is "the little champion/
A warrior for this or any
Like all great poets, Chichikov
is not afraid to take
risks in describing his subjects.
In "The Act," he makes
us eyewitnesses to "swollen
spiders" in "their gripping
tryst" with "eightfold...legs
together," but after impregnation,
the male "takes a
silken wire slide to the abyss/ The wonder
of an impresario."
But while Chichikov dazzles us with
his keen observations, imaginative
flights of metaphor and metaphysical
wit reminiscent of 17th-century poets
John Donne and George Herbert, his
poems teach us valuable parables about
our place in "this house of creation."
In "Saint Anthony and the Crappie,"
the fish are "sanctified"—"Their eyes
are round and lidless, stare,/Their heads
are shaken once or twice,/They lash
their tails, the sign of prayer,/And
who'd deny them paradise?" But while
"May-hatched mantids climb through
hazel" and "An orb web weaver spins
mandalas," "Men unspin their unborn
Accompanying Chichikov's poems
are about 20 drawings and photos of
animals, a verbal and visual world of
splendor calling to mind Renaissance
emblem books that delighted the eye
and ear as much as they scolded the
senses for departing from the natural
order of creation. Chichikov's animals
"function blindly by the laws/Established,
still the universe applauds." Can
we say the same?
You can order ANIMAL KINGDOM from St. Francis Bookstore.