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Exploring Parish Life in the United States With Sebastian Gomes

The Catholic Church continues to evolve in the United States, and Sebastian Gomes of America Magazine traveled across the country to assess the state of the Church. His findings are chronicled in a new documentary called, “People of God: How Catholic Parish Life is Changing in the United States.”

Gomes says he and his team wanted to put a human face to recent data and trends about who American Catholics are today. He asks, “What’s their experience of the faith? What are the challenges that they’re facing? What are their pastoral priorities? That’s a big thing. The result is this documentary that tells four unique stories in different regions. It raises a lot more questions than it answers, but that was intentional, because I think we want the film to be a tool for that deeper conversation.”

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Father Dave responds, “What I think you do very well, in introducing us to the lives of these people, is show that [parish life] takes a lot of different shapes and forms. And in many ways, we are encouraged and see hope and growth. And in other ways, there are definitely things to be concerned about.”

Gomes stresses how he wanted to be “honest and upfront” about the challenges parishes face, such as clustering due to attendance declines and young people falling away from the Church. However, he says, “That doesn’t mean there’s no hope. I walked out of this project just amazed at the faith of ordinary people. It’s so diverse, and it’s so real and rich…if you see a challenge in front of you, you have to think it’s worth attempting to fix that problem. And these people are all in on trying to share the faith and think about creative ways to keep it alive.”

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In showcasing four regions of the United States, Gomes shares the story of a priest named Father Joel who serves multiple parishes in Wisconsin. In the film, Father Joel says, “I think the Church has been attached to being a successful institution. And we were good at it, but it doesn’t really change hearts. And really, I need to just be content to serve Jesus, without worrying about the numbers. You know, are hearts changing, are minds changing, are people growing in their faith? That’s what matters.” 

Gomes says he finds hope in younger priests like Father Joel who often look at things with “fresh eyes.” Gomes says, “If you’re willing to face reality, you’d be amazed at how new creative things can bubble up from that.”

Visit America Magazine’s website for information about how to watch the documentary and more stories from the film.