Although experts can’t say for sure why it’s happening, the Church in Spain has been undergoing a remarkable revival in recent years, including a jump in Mass attendance, new abortion restrictions and even a famous model who gave up the runway for a cloister.
Filip Mazurczak, writing for First Things, notes that the proportion of Spaniards attending Mass increased from 12.1 to 15 percent between 2011 and 2012. Between 2012 and 2013, it jumped an astonishing 23 percent.
“Not only are Spaniards attending Mass more frequently, but also youths are rediscovering the priesthood and religious life,” Mazurczak reports.
Last year, the number of diocesan seminarians increased for a third consecutive year from 1227 to 1321. In addition, an estimated 400 Spanish women a year are now entering religious orders, a number that has been slowly increasing as well. This is especially impressive because Spain has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe and has also been experiencing high rates of youth emigration to more prosperous countries like Chile, Germany and Britain.
“Perhaps no one puts a more attractive face on Spain’s return to Catholicism than Olalla Oliveros,” Mazurczak writes. “Last month, the 36-year-old Spanish model stunned Spanish society by becoming a nun of the semi-cloistered Order of Saint Michael. Perhaps Oliveros did this out of frustration? On the contrary, she was at the height of her career and was recently offered a lead role in a big-budget film. Oliveros experienced a conversion several years back and made her decision after much thought.”
The country has also been recovering its moral balance since the progressively secular government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was replaced by the conservative Mariano Rajoy in 2011.
Zapatero legalized abortion and same-sex marriage and made “express divorce” legal, as well as ended mandatory religious education in schools and removed crucifixes from public buildings. However, according to Mazurczak, Spanish elites felt that Zapatero went too far in de-Christianizing the nation.
Rajoy, on the other hand “is challenging Zapatero’s revolution” and is pushing a bill banning abortion except when the pregnancy results from rape or threatens a mother’s health or life. If passed, the bill will make Spain more pro-life than it has been since 1985.
Some say the country’s economy and high unemployment rate – the highest in Europe – but Mazurczak says other periods of economic depression in the country’s history didn’t show any such rates in religious revival. For instance, in the early 90′s, during a depressed economy and high unemployment, religious observance and vocations actually declined.
Instead, he believes something else is at play in the country’s revival, “whether a response to Benedict’s summoning of Europe to return to its roots, a rediscovery of the beauty of religious life, weariness with Zapatero’s secularist aggression, or something else entirely.”
Whatever the cause, Spanish Catholicism is regaining a vibrancy it has not seen in decades, Mazurczak says.
“When Pope Francis visits Spain next year, he will find a struggling local Church, but one where Catholic culture is being visibly reborn.”
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