Whither American Catholicism?
Pope Francis may be the leader of a great awakening in America and the world.

Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus


‘The Church in America is in many ways the key to the future of the Church today,” says Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights of Columbus and author of Proclaim Liberty: Notes on the Next Great Awakening in America, in an interview with ’s National Review Onlines Kathryn Jean Lopez. Before the world had met a Pope Francis, Anderson was seeing — and encouraging — the beginnings of a great awakening in the Church.

The rise of secularism is often aided by the actions and attitudes of self-identified Christians, so the need for reform and renewal, as well as a review of the essentials of Christian faith, is an urgent one for the Church today, perhaps especially in America, where religious freedom is under attack. That we have a pope from the Americas who sees the urgency of this need is a hopeful sign for such an awakening.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is Pope Francis the leader of a new great awakening?

CARL ANDERSON: He certainly can be. We might say that in 1978, the election of John Paul II led to a great awakening for Catholics behind the Iron Curtain. And that spiritual awakening grew into a global phenomenon with initiatives like World Youth Day, his many encyclicals, and his work with the Church in America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. With Pope Francis, I think we could see something very similar. The Church in America is in many ways the key to the future of the Church today. The affinity of the people in our hemisphere for the new pope is likewise obvious. He has the ability to lead a new evangelization of Catholics not only in Latin America but throughout our hemisphere. I think he will do this mostly by his personal witness to the faith, especially his charity and humility.

I was there in St. Peter’s Square when Pope Francis first appeared to the world and it was clear by the reaction of the thousands of people present that night and in the days following that he has struck a great chord among Catholics.

Especially in terms of charity, he will continue to challenge each of us to see Christ in our neighbors, whoever they are, whatever their physical condition or economic status and whatever their background. I think this has the potential to create a new solidarity not only between the affluent and the poor, but also between the more affluent nations and the less affluent nations in our hemisphere.

LOPEZ: John Paul II addressed the whole continent, all of the Americas, in his Ecclesia in America. Will we ever see it as one in that way? Could Pope Francis make it happen?

ANDERSON: If globalization has brought our world closer together, I think it is safe to say that it has brought America as a hemisphere closer together, too. Our new pope is the son of immigrants; he is from a Latin American country with very European roots. He is uniquely positioned to understand the entire hemisphere, the cultural dialogue between countries, issues of poverty, immigration, social issues, etc. He has seen in Argentina the same issues that are coming to the fore now in other countries of our hemisphere. His pontificate could really unify Catholics in an important way.

I think the most important country in regard to this question is the United States. The real question is how seriously Catholics in the United States will take the challenge of Ecclesia in America. Will we truly begin to look south and see a hemisphere with which we can have a common future? From the standpoint of the Church and also from an economic and geopolitical one, the potential is enormous.

: What has impressed you most about this pope thus far? What do you most anticipate?

ANDERSON: Pope Francis has already done something very extraordinary. He has been able to personally engage millions of people around the globe by his witness and example. The office of the pope is fundamentally a teaching office. But as Pope Paul VI reminded us in 1975, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Pope Francis knows this reality very well. And I think he will continue to “teach” by his personal example. Already, this has been a papacy of firsts, and I would expect that Pope Francis will continue to surprise people with the many ways in which he witnesses to the Gospel.