The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is one of the three major branches of Christianity, along with Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Catholicism has been the decisive spiritual force in much of the history of Western civilization, having influenced the development of the Middle Ages, architecture styles (Gothic), literary works such as those by Dante, and musical works such as those by Mozart and Handle.
The population of Roman Catholics in the world, approximately 1.1 billion, is greater than that of nearly all other religious traditions. There are more Roman Catholics than all other Christians combined. Although there are more Muslims than Roman Catholics, the number of Catholics is greater than that of the individual traditions of Shiite and Sunni Islam. Over the course of centuries the Catholic Church has developed a highly sophisticated theology and an elaborate organizational structure headed by the papacy, known as the Pope, the oldest continuing absolute monarchy in the world.
The Roman Catholic Church traces its history to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Catholics believe that the church was founded by Jesus Christ as part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world. Christ’s proclamation and inauguration of the kingdom of God led to the gathering of disciples. His death, resurrection, and sending of the Holy Spirit definitively established the church. Jesus entrusted to this community the mission of preaching the gospel and of “making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
Catholics believe in the Holy Trinity made up of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three “persons” compose our one God. Each of these parts helps us live a Catholic life in different ways. As one, God tells us how to treat others, ourselves, and the world. By following Jesus and living a life of God, Catholics will have eternal salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christianity today bases its teachings on the Bible. The Bible helps believers guide their lives by outlining the works of the Prophets and Jesus through stories (parables), actions, and teachings. By reading and studying the Bible, we can understand what God wants and expects of us.
The Catholic Bible is composed of the Old Testament, which includes four sections, and the New Testament, which is divided into five sections. The Old Testament begins with the Torah or Pentateuch, five books shared with the Jewish faith. Following the Torah are the Historical Books, Wisdom Books, and Prophetic Books telling of the works of God, his followers, and prophets before the time of Jesus. The New Testament begins with the Gospels, followed by the Historical Books, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, and Revelations. The Gospels explain the life and works of Jesus during his time on Earth. Readings from the Gospels are the high point of the Liturgy of the Word during a Catholic Mass, because the Gospels tell of the life, ministry, and preaching of Christ.
The Catholic Church in the Florida Panhandle
The Catholic Church in Florida has experienced many changes and great growth over the years. This brief history only recalls highlights. Known to God alone and recorded in the silent pages of eternal history are the innumerable prayers, sacrifices, and great heartfelt generosity of hundreds of thousands of men and women. Grateful for their gift of faith, they have shown well their appreciation to Almighty God by their ongoing determination to pass the “Light of Christ” onto the future.
The Catholic population is most numerous in the western section of the Diocese (Pensacola) where 40% of the total population lives. The remaining 60% is nearly equally divided in the areas of Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, and Tallahassee. There are few Catholic households in the vast seven rural counties along the 200 mile stretch of highway from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Pensacola, to the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, Tallahassee.
Northwest Florida is not highly populated or industrialized. It is mostly made up of rural farming communities which have dedicated vast acreage to growing trees for major paper product companies. Economic well being is greatly due to the large military presence in the diocese. There are seven military bases in the diocese. Among those bases is Eglin Air Force Base, which is the largest United States Air Force Base in the world. The huge Eglin Air Force Base covers 723 square miles or three Northwest Florida Counties. In addition to numerous military personnel, civilian men and women are employed as support staff.
Significant economic factors in Northwest Florida are the three Air Force bases at Eglin, Hurlburt, and Tyndall; the three Naval bases at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Corry, and Whiting; and one Coast Guard Base in Panama City. Naval Air Station, Pensacola, is the training center for all pilots for the United States Navy. These military installations provide employment to area residents and support commercial businesses and enterprises which have been built around Northwest Florida Bases.
There are 50 parishes and 8 missions in the diocese. There is a resident pastor in every county except three: Holmes, Jefferson and Liberty. Many parishes in the less populated areas are subsidized by mission societies such as The Catholic Extension Society; The American Board of Catholic Missions; the Commission Among the Blacks and Indians; and Missionary Cooperative Appeals personally made by the Diocesan Bishop in other dioceses of Florida.
None of the counties in this diocese are growth impact areas, although four are predicted to experience substantial growth in the next ten years. Two counties more are expected to grow at a lesser rate while little or no expansion is anticipated for the other twelve counties. There is considerable evidence of development along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico which is the southern boundary of the Diocese.
From a rural and sparsely populated area of the “old South” fifty years ago, some areas of this Northwest Florida diocese have developed into modern communities. Much of this has come from the expansion of military bases since World War II, improvements in communication and transportation, the growth of the aerospace industry, and from air-conditioning. Improved building methods have also allowed construction on the sand that is a heavy component of our soil.
Some of the smaller communities have grown slowly. Others have progressed significantly. Eleven missions were raised to the status of parishes during the last five years here.