Selection of new religious leader brings writer back to faith

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My childhood revolved around Catholicism.

I made my communion at age eight, memorized my prayers in Spanish and attended church every Sunday with my family.

But something happened in my beliefs when I reached my teenage years. I questioned everything. Prayer became less frequent and I’d sleep in on Sundays.

I was not the only one.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis, “strong” Catholic identity is at a 40-year low in the United States.

Church attendance is even more scarce.

Forty-seven percent of Catholics attended church at least once a week in the 1970s.

Today, it is down to 24 percent.

On Feb. 28, after almost eight years of serving over a billion Catholics, Benedict XVI retired his title as the church’s 265th Pope.

It now seems to be the smartest decision in his papacy.

I count his stepping down as a blessing in disguise. The death of Pope John Paul II left big shoes to fill, and even with those red Prada shoes, it seems Benedict never completely did.

He was not the world-tour rock star that John Paul II was.

Issues involving the Vatican’s bank and sex scandals tainted Benedict’s papacy.

But it’s important to know that the few, who did evil under the public’s trust, do not represent all those who follow.

The church’s strong traditionalist views to modern-day issues add to the decline of Catholics in the United States.

My friend Prinz Jeremy Llanes Dela Cruz, a second-year seminarian at the Old College Undergraduate Seminary conducted by the Congregation of Holy Cross (as well as a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame), says people lose faith, as they grow older because they don’t exercise it.
Faith is an invisible muscle.

“If people chose to attend Mass more often or frequent Confession on a regular basis, they would come to understand their faith not as a separate entity from who they are but as an integral part of their identity,” said Dela Cruz.

Another major reason for the decline of my faith has to do with the clash of science and religion.

Could I do both? Dela Cruz answers yes.

“It has never been and never will be a paradox to be both a practicing Catholic and an intellectual. One need only look at the host of saintly men and women who have served God and humanity as scientists, theologians, engineers, lawyers, and scholars,” he said.

Benedict said he left for the good of the church. He left a vacant spot for someone to refresh it.

I believe the 266th Vicar of Christ can and will.

Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, is the first Pope from Latin America.

My mother and I watched the coverage of Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.

He’s a man who seeks to help the poor and who, in 2001, washed the feet of AIDS patients in a hospital in Buenos Aires, symbolizing that he is their servant.

This man inherits a troubled church in need of a John Paul II.

He could be it.

Though he is a traditionalist, I believe he can recruit new followers and strengthen beliefs of those who already believe.

Perhaps I lost my beliefs because I didn’t comprehend it all the way.

But there is no conflict between faith and reason. As Dela Cruz said, they can go hand in hand.

Pope Francis will be the role model, I, and many others need to find our way back to Catholicism.