Reading Matt’s list, I realize how completely unqualified I am to write a top ten list of the most fascinating Catholics of 2008, at least in terms of general fascination. However, here is a list of the Catholics I find most fascinating at the moment:
1) Pope Benedict XVI. Surely one of the world’s smartest people, Pope Benedict is of course much more. But what I find most fascinating about him is that he is the least-heralded of what I think of as the Big Three — great saints (or at least saintly people) to emerge out of what was a massive attempt to wipe out religion in the 20th century. Mother Theresa came out of Albania, one of the first countries taken over by the Axis powers. Pope John Paul II came out of Poland, suffering from both the Nazis and the communists. And Benedict XVI came from Germany, the country that undertook so much of the destruction. Unlike the others, whose countries were taken over, he grew up in the conquering country. But none of those things could kill the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict proves that its strength is not lost, no matter how dire the situation was or is. Much is changing in the world, and Europe is no longer the bastion of Christendom that it once was. But our pope is a living sign that Christendom is not dead.
2) Nancy Pelosi. What is with this woman? A prime representative of the “Catholics” that are now prominent politicians because they have pretty much jettisoned everything in the church but its name, she doesn’t seem to be a simple hypocrite. She seems to actually believe that she is a devout Catholic. Much food for thought there.
3) Justin Catanoso. Author of the lively and engaging My Cousin the Saint, Justin Catanoso is like many young people who are Catholics by birth but secular Americans by default. He believed that he had given religion a lot of consideration until discovering his extended Italian family and his grandfather’s cousin, who was about to be canonized. What is a secular American supposed to do with a saint in the family? Too bad the reading up on religion he did featured Gary Wills…
4) Gary Wills. What is with this guy? Now in the running for most egotistical religious author ever (What Jesus Meant, What Paul Meant, etc.), Wills has produced a steady stream of books for decades about how the Catholic Church is wrong, how he is right, and why he nevertheless remains a Catholic. His views don’t fascinate me — the fact that anyone still reads him does.
5) The Priests. This trio of singing Irish Catholic priests got a record deal, a PBS special, and a lot of media attention — despite their singing being (in my opinion) very nice but nothing special. They are famous for being priests, nice guys, Irish, and normal human beings. Who’d have expected that in 2008?
6) Dwight Longenecker. Author, priest, and blogger, Fr. Dwight is a convert whose delight in being Catholic is infectious. His journey to the Catholic Church was uniquely American, though it took him to England for years — the sort of American who is enamored of all things English, he wanted to be an Anglican pastor so much that he flew to England to be one. How charming is that? The fact that went there from Bob Jones University is even more charmingly American.
7) Prince Gallitzen. Do the most fascinating Catholics of 2008 have to be alive? I am transfixed by the story of Prince Gallitzen, a real Russian prince who became a mission priest in the mountains of Pennsylvania where my parents grew up. When I visited Altoona, PA, with them two years ago I saw references to him everywhere, and they told me his story. There is a movement for his canonization.
8) Archbishop Chaput. Read his book Render Unto Caesar. That the things he says should be either courageous or news to Catholics is even more interesting than what he says, and that’s interesting enough.
9) Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. Hopes and fears about our new coadjutor bishop are running rampant in some circles, but what will he actually do? It’s hard to top this in terms of local fascination but…
10) The Sacred Heart Radio Staff. SHR has been on the air for years now, and while the story of its growth and success may not have as much folksy appeal as Mother Angelica and her Sisters, it’s pretty compelling. To go from a one-man operation to recording a national show for EWTN is quite a story! Congratulations, everyone, and THANKS!