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Sebastian GomesOctober 12, 2022
The filmmakers in Phoenix, Ariz. (Keara Hanlon/America Media)

How would you describe the state of Catholic parish life in the United States today? In many places, parishes are closing, there’s a shortage of priests, and many younger Catholics are leaving the faith. Is the Catholic Church as we know it dying? What are the major shifts and trends happening in Catholic parish life today?

Over the past year, I led America Media’s video team across the country in search of answers. We started by looking at the data: In what regions of the country do Catholics live? Are they more likely to live in urban centers, suburbs or remote areas? What are their racial and cultural backgrounds? Are they Republicans or Democrats? What pastoral programs do they prioritize in their parishes? How are they living their faith out in the world?

The results of our search can be seen in America’s new, groundbreaking feature documentary, “People of God: How Catholic Parish Life is Changing in the United States,” available today exclusively to subscribers.

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To watch the documentary, click here. We traveled to the dairy farmlands of Wisconsin, where parishes are ‘clustering’ at a rapid pace. We went to the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., where parishes are booming due to internal and external immigration, and where the big challenge now is integrating Hispanic and Anglo communities. We journeyed down to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, where intensifying climate crises are dramatically impacting longstanding ways of life. And finally, we went to the big city in Boston, Mass., where the Covid-19 pandemic prompted the parish to grow its digital community, which has since expanded around the world.

The truth is that our journey uncovered more questions than answers. None of the data sets or trends that we consulted at the start of the project fully captured the variety and complexity of issues facing parish life. But that’s O.K. As we brought the film to its conclusion, we realized that raising these questions is just as important—if not more—than answering them. How do we face the challenge of cultural integration as the church in the United States becomes more Latino? And how do the politics around immigration shape that conversation? How do we face the reality of declining numbers and the closing of churches without losing hope for the future? How does Catholic teaching on issues like abortion, racial justice or climate change shape the priorities of parishes in different regions? What does it mean to be a parish community when some members are thousands of miles away tuning into Mass each week on YouTube?

More than anything, our film is a tool and a guide for these challenging conversations that need to happen at parishes around the country. So let’s have these conversations together.

You can watch “People of God” here.

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