OF late Catholic churches in Europe have been empty of worshippers. In the US, the Catholic Church is also experiencing a slow-down. Sexual abuse by the clergy might have something to do with this. But whether it has or not, the fact is ordinations to the priesthood are also down.

In this country, the Catholic Church is still going strong judging from filled Churches on Sundays and from frenzied crowds of devotees to the Sto. Niño, the Black Nazarene, and the Blessed Mother.

In the midst of this upheaval, two groups have come to the fore. One is of clergy and faithful who propound theories as to why Catholics leave their Church. The other is of die-hard Catholics who urge Catholics not to lose their Faith due to the failings of clergy and faithful.

Both groups presume that Catholics leave the Church because they have lost their Faith. This is more of a wrong assumption. Some leave to practice their Faith in another Church or religion. Others leave because they want to stick to the essentials of their religion. I can’t imagine anybody leaving to become a heathen.

The Filipino Catholic Church has to realize that empty churches and dwindling priestly vocations in Europe do not mean Europeans have ceased to be Christians. We still rely entirely on their charity (not on that of church-going Filipinos) to fund our work with informal settlers and exploited children.

It simply means that people are getting enlightened that one does not have to be a Catholic or to belong to any Church or religion to follow Christ’s example of a just, loving, and compassionate life. These are Pope Francis’s “pagan Christians.”

This wave of enlightenment has reached our shores and can only grow bigger and stronger. Unless they want to be swamped by it, Church leaders have to stop preaching and start living Christ’s message to be relevant to an enlightened future generation that will not stand for their failings as shepherds of God’s people.

If they want to keep Catholics in Church and even attract more members, they have to go back, in deed, not in word, to the essentials of Christianity. They must shepherd (be with) the people of God and not merely administer the financial assets of parishes.

Christ is very clear about what ultimately matters: “Come...inherit the Kingdom prepared for you... For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” Matthew 25: 34-36

There are no Catholics or non-Catholics at the last judgment, just loving and unloving people from all kinds of religions or of no religion at all.