I’m teaching an English class to a group of software programmers here in Mendoza, Argentina. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, we chit and chat about their lives—in English. This Tuesday, one young man told the class that he spent Sunday celebrating the 60th jubilee of his parish priest’s priesthood. And another young woman about my age chimed in that she’d been there, too, and it had been a beautiful celebration (complete with a famous Argentine barbecue—asado!). All around the room, nods of appreciation for this man’s commitment to the collar.
I don’t get the impression that this is a particularly religious group. These two students are the only ones that mention Mass as a part of their weekend happenings. But, clearly, the idea that a man has been a priest since 1948 induced a sort of awe over the length of his priesthood.
And I felt the same way.
Here’s the thing. In the few conversations about religion that I’ve cobbled together with my slowly growing Spanish, the general consensus is that fewer and fewer young people in Argentina are committed to Catholicism—yes, rituals are important: babies are baptized, kids receive 1st Communion and young couples have a Catholic Mass Wedding. But attendance is next-to-nothing and being Catholic doesn’t seem to have much to do with going to Mass each Sunday.
And yet. There is this deep understanding of how amazing it is that a man could be a priest, daily committed to the needs of a parish, for 60 years. In some ways, it feels like a disconnect—why be amazed by an institution you don’t care to participate in? But, more, I think, it must paint a complicated picture of Catholicism. At the very least, despite the lack of formal practice, Catholicism retains its powerful pull on people’s imaginations.