The exercise is brief, but revealing. During the first session of my parish’s adult Christian initiation program, the leader challenges the group: Draw what you think of when you hear the word church. The potential candidates and catechumens furrow their brows and grab a marker. Most of them produce a skeletal picture of a building—a square structure beneath a pointy roof with a cross on top, a few stained glass windows, a large door. Sometimes there is an open Bible floating somewhere in the scene.
These images, while not works of art, do feature a vital element of our lives as Catholics. But it is just one element. Thankfully, the RCIA at my parish (full disclosure: the director is Robert C. Collins, S.J., executive editor of America) offers inquirers the chance to delve into the many dimensions of our faith. Through Scripture study and discussion, through helpful handouts and honest feedback, by providing a faithful, familiar place to ask questions about the great Church Tradition and the many church traditions, the rite guides candidates and catechumens as they grow in their love for the beautiful, messy, historic, justice-oriented, creative, global faith community they are about to join.
Months later, following the Easter Vigil, the neophytes try their hand at a second image of what church means. Some draw church structures once again, but this time populate the pews with stick figures—the members of the body of Christ. Others draw a cross or a globe or a heart or fire or a dove. Many arrived at the first session inspired by our particular parish, but by the time the Easter Vigil arrives, they are prepared to be part of our larger church. They are looking for ways to continue their growth in faith. And they understand that the essence of the church can’t be captured on paper, but must be drawn with our lives.
Many Catholics, old and new, are drawn to the depth and breadth of the church and its good works across the globe, the universality of the Mass, the sense that they are part of something larger than themselves. And yet, in the midst of our busy lives, it remains all too easy to forget about this larger community, those who may live some distance from us, but are just as much a part of the body of Christ as the man or woman in the pew beside us. Whether it is the Christians of South Korea, recently visited by Pope Francis (pg. 28), or the unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border (pg. 11), we are called to be in solidarity with this global community.
It is in this spirit of solidarity that America presents the first fruits of our expanded national and international coverage. This issue includes the debut of the column Vatican Dispatch by the distinguished journalist Gerard O’Connell, who joins our staff as an associate editor and Vatican correspondent, based in Rome. He will offer weekly insights and updates from there in the magazine and across America’s digital platforms.
You’ll also notice a new page of reporting in the Signs of the Times. Each week correspondents from around the globe will provide a glimpse into pressing issues of the day. This week features a report from Jim McDermott, S.J., a one-time associate editor here, who returns to our pages as America’s West Coast correspondent. His report from Murrieta is brief but revealing. Future issues will feature reporting by Judith Valente from Chicago, Tim Padgett from Miami and Steve Schwankert from Beijing, with more correspondents to come. We hope these reports will serve as a kind of faith education. Their variety of perspectives will, we hope, better enable our Christian community to learn from one another as we strive to be men and women for others. Through this international and national reporting, we aim to draw a fuller image of what church means today.