CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, the home of Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-A. My parents moved to Georgia when they were children, so the only Catholicism they remember is Catholicism in the South. Likewise, it was the only Catholicism I knew before coming here.
I think what makes southern Catholicism so unique is the outside influences. In Georgia, only about 12 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, so needless to say, growing up I met a lot more Protestants than Catholics. In fact, Protestantism has definitely influenced southern Catholic culture, but not in a bad way. The Protestant religion formed out of an initial desire to reform the Church, and, unbeknownst to them, Protestants have succeeded in bringing good practices to the Catholic Church even now.
For example, Protestants have such a heavy emphasis on knowing Scripture that some of that has seeped into the Catholic Church in the south as well. When I was a kid, the Catholic Church and Methodist Church would alternate who hosted vacation Bible school each year. Unsurprisingly, we always had to memorize many Bible quotes. Though that was irritating to me at the time, I now see the benefit that it can add to the faith.
Also, southern Catholics have a big emphasis on community, and that definitely comes from our southern Protestant brethren. When we say the Our Father, we all hold hands. It didn’t matter if the person next to you was a stranger; by the time the Our Father and Sign of Peace were over, that person was practically family. Often I’d see people at the ends of the pews even reaching across and holding hands with the person in front or behind them, creating an even stronger sense of unity that did not permit pews as barriers. I have to admit, that’s something I really miss about my church back home.
Coming from my southern heritage, when I think of Mass, I think of community. I am an EMHC (Eucharistic Minister of Holy Communion), and when I am serving Jesus to my fellow believers, I am aware of the power of the fact that not only are they receiving our Lord into their very bodies, but also that I have been blessed to be one to help make that possible in that instance. Even receiving the Eucharist, this most intimate moment in our faith lives, is also a moment of community. It reminds me that we are the one body of Christ, we need each other, and that faith is not a journey to make alone.
This sense of community is strengthened by our lack of numbers. Since there are so few Catholics around, the ones that are there become a tight-knit group. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but whenever I find out that someone is Catholic, it creates an immediate bond between us, even if we only see each other in passing from time to time.
Added to the Protestant influence of the southern Church is the Hispanic Catholic influence. Since Spanish-speaking countries tend to be very Catholic, it makes sense that many Hispanic people in the U.S. retain that zeal for their faith and can bring that to the Church in America, especially in the south where there is a large Hispanic population.
Southern Catholics have the community and biblical emphasis of the Protestants and the religious zeal of the Hispanics. That, added to the intimacy of small but tight-knit communities of believers, is what makes the southern Church so great, in my opinion.
Coming to Franciscan, I was interested to see so many different people practicing their faith in so many different ways. I love watching the communion line because I get to watch all the different ways that people receive Jesus.
That’s something that makes our Catholic faith so amazing. We are one universal Church, yet this is not a one-size-fits-all faith. We are a product of where we are from and where we are going.
And that’s why I love being a southern Catholic. My faith has been able to grow from the outside influence of the Protestants and the inside influence of the Hispanic Catholics. And that’s why I love being here, at Franciscan University. I am being exposed to other ways that the Catholic faith is practiced. I’m meeting Catholics from all over the U.S. and some from even further away. I’ve experienced charismatic Catholicism and ultra-traditional Catholicism, and in the process I am finding where I fit. Our Catholic faith is grounded in tradition, yet it is also rich in local custom. That is why I love being a southern Catholic.