Week Two of Paul Wilkes' on-scene reports:

The Latest From Rome: Dispatches 12& up
Dispatch 7: One Mass Among Many
Dispatch 8: Cardinal Law's Mass
Dispatch 9: What the Cardinals Want
Dispatch 10: Pope Ratzinger?
Dispatch 11: Which Catholic Church?
Week 1: Dispatches 1-6

One Catholic Church...or Two, or Three?

There we stood on the Piazza Della Pilotta as bright-faced young men and women spilled through the columns and down the steps of the imposing Gregorian University. They were dressed in an array of proper clerical garb not much seen--if ever seen--by many Catholics in the United States. All seemed well with the church. Such vigor, such diversity. These were some of the 10,000 priests, seminarians, and nuns--from Asia, Africa, South America as well as Europe and America--who attend classes together here in Rome.

So what of all this talk about two churches--a church of the North, a church of the South? A church of the developed world, the church of developing world, each with widely divergent needs. And what shortage of clergy? Certainly not here. The Catholic world seemed a peaceable kingdom indeed.

I was standing there with Father Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit who teaches liturgy here at Greg, as it is known, who took my question of two churches and, as Jesuits are wont to do, quickly expanded it to three. And he wasn't talking about dividing the globe geographically or economically.

"There is the official church at one end, and the popular church at the other," he said. "The official church or the ideal church is the church of unquestioning doctrine and dogma and with unstinting love for the Holy Father. The popular church will still have that great love, and a deep devotional life but is puzzled and sometime overwhelmed with such questions as: how do we stop the spread of AIDS, how do I feed my family, how do I protect them from the war going on around me?

"The third church is in between, and although not all of them have the crushing problems of those living in poverty, they are people who are trying to reconcile the ideal with the practical."

In the Catholic Church today--as the 115 cardinals sit in their conferences and soon enter into the Casa Santa Maria residence and then file into the Sistine Chapel on Monday for the conclave--the "two church" debate rages. It will certainly be one of the bases on which the new pope will be chosen. Can this man reach into both worlds, which have such different issues?

I decided to call someone for whom "two worlds-two churches" is not a theoretical construct, but an everyday reality in his life. Monsignor Arturo Banuelas, who earned his graduate degree in Rome, is the pastor of Pope Pius X parish in El Paso. His are largely middle class Hispanic parishioners, yet little more than a 10-minute car ride away lies the Mexican border.

"Why does it have to be one or the other?" Msgr. Banuelas asked. "As if we are talking about this whining, selfish, materialistic American church with no values and no major problems versus the compliant, patient, suffering rest of the world. The issue is to be a prophetic church throughout the entire world, meeting the needs of each culture and place head on.

"We hear that we need more priests to make this happen. To me the answer is not to ordain more priests that have a perfect orthodoxy, but to allow all Catholics to be prophetic in addressing whatever it is in their particular circumstances that the gospel can transform. Bishops too.

"The Catholic ideal is not lockstep rigidity, but openness to what is going on today, in the unique surroundings each person finds herself or himself. Archbishop Bishop Oscar Romero is a perfect example of an ordinary churchman who read the signs of the times, read the gospels, and was compelled to have the gospelspeak to the moment. He was killed because of it. But he was a prophet, he cried out against injustice.