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A friend recently returned from a brief time on the East Coast with one of those Catholic nightmare stories. As she explained, on Christmas Day, the young priest told the assembled congregation, “If you did not attend yesterday (which, remember, was a Sunday) you may not go to Communion.” He also noticed that some had been late, and he told them they also should not approach the altar for Communion. He ended by putting everyone on notice that he would be available in the back of the church after Mass to hear confessions. Merry Christmas. And the peace and love of Jesus be with you.

We all have those stories. They’re the ones that force us to say, “There must be something better.” Paul Wilkes had that kind of moment and took the search farther than most of us could imagine (see page 3).

Many of us have our own stories about parish hunting. When we were living in New Jersey, my wife, Sally, and I subjected our kids to miserable sermons and awful liturgies for several years until, in desperation, we went parish shopping and wound up at St. Mary’s in Colts Neck, N.J., a model place.

In the Midwest, our search (inspired when a priest on the feast of Corpus Christi read about the Eucharist from canon law) led us to St. Francis Xavier in Kansas City, Mo. It has much of what Wilkes sees in excellent parishes -- good preaching, community, sense of purpose and service -- the elements that, if you’ve had the good fortune to find one of these places, you understand.

The point is eloquently made in the study. Wilkes’ book is an Easter morning collection of ecclesial data, a herald that announces that for all the grim news out of Rome, all the exhausting and navel-gazing pronouncements, all the disciplines and silencings and threats and secret little letters shooting around among curialists and hierarchy the world over, Catholics -- ordinary pew style Catholics -- and a lot of their priests, understand what counts. To keep up with developments in the study project, visit the Web site, www.pastoralsummit.org, e-mail the project at staff@pastoralsummit.org.

It is not surprising to hear young women today speak of the church as hostile to their concerns and dismissive of their talents, gifts and what some feel is a call to ordained ministry. When some dioceses still ban altar girls and when any discussion of women’s ordination is officially forbidden, it is easy to become numb to the authentic power and inclusiveness of the Catholic community. And then there are those, like Kerry Egan, who rediscover a deep connection with Catholicism, something that allows them to see beyond the contemporary flaws in the community to something more significant.

The story of her journey to an adult decision to be a Catholic (see page 12) includes a vividly written account of a pilgrimage in Spain.

In a wonderful bit of serendipity, two days before this issue went to press I received another wonderfully written account of another young woman who found her way to Catholicism from the Anglican tradition. Look for it in next week’s issue.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, January 26, 2001