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Fiction: A Church Refreshed: A dispatch from an American Catholic future — Dateline: Chicago, March 13, 2063

Song leader Sophia Santiago stood to the right of the altar of St. Gertrude Church in Chicago and invited those in the crowded pews and in folding chairs to greet their neighbors. “All are welcome,” she proclaimed. To the simple notes of a single piano, the parish choir and the congregation sang a sweet, lilting version of “Come to the Water” as liturgical dancers, altar servers, ministers of the word, parish chancellor Emma Okere and pastor Rev. Antonio Fitzgerald processed up the center aisle. The song filled the soaring interior of the 131-year-old structure. On a banner high behind the altar, in large, easily readable lettering, was a quotation from Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?” image...adjusted....1.. This was one of thousands of celebrations across the globe marking 50 years of rejuvenation and renewal dating from the election of Pope Francis in 2013, popularly called “refreshment of the faith.”   “Prisoners of our past” Consider St. Gertrude and the rest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 2013, St. Gertrude had been one of 356 parishes in the archdiocese, each with a church and one or more ancillary buildings, such as a rectory, a school and a former convent. Today, though, it is one of only 42 full parishes. Over the past five decades, successive Chicago Cardinals, working closely with lay Catholics and using a model developed in Europe, closed nearly 90 percent of the traditional parishes in Cook and Lake Counties, Illinois.

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Fiction: “The Summer of ‘64”

“Summer vacation, 1964, the summer after my freshman year in high school, was the beginning of my dark night of the soul.” What the hell? What was Louis Sojo talking about? “It was,” he said, “the start of almost twenty years of wandering in a jagged wasteland, searching for something — I didn’t know what. Confused, uneasy, lost, I would get glimpses now and then of a direction to take, a turn to make. Was this the right way to go? I didn’t know. I just knew I had to be moving. I had to continue searching.” I just nodded. What else could I do? We were sitting in a booth at McDonald’s. Louis had a cup of coffee in front of him. I had pretty much finished my Diet Coke. His publisher — he’s a textbook writer — had sent him out to sit in on some classrooms where one of the company’s books, The Spirit of the Nation, was being used. At the John Coughlin Academy of Excellence and Justice, I turned a corner and suddenly I heard, “Chippy!” And there was Louis. Internally I cringed at that nickname. I hadn’t been called “Chippy” since my early 30s when I’d play basketball every Saturday morning at a church gym on the North Side. Louis was part of those games — a short, plumb guy who was a lot more agile than he appeared. He had a horrible-looking shot that almost always went in. A good teammate, a quiet presence on the court and off. A good guy. But it’s not like we were close. I was happy to see him again and glad to catch up. I never expected to hear him unload his life story — or, at least, his story about the summer of 1964. We’d been talking about baseball and the players we remembered from the 1950s and 1960s, and, then, for whatever reason, Louis began to ramble. “In 1963,” he said,

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