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'We Live It Every Day'

Pope's Visit Cheers Young Conservatives Who Reject 'Cafeteria Catholicism' in Favor of the Full Menu

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The Hickey family keeps Catholic relics throughout their house as a reminder of their faith.Video by Jacqueline Salmon/The Washington Post
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By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

During an era when two-thirds of young Catholics say they can be good Catholics without going to Mass and many believe in a woman's right to choose abortion and view premarital sex as morally acceptable, Karen and David Hickey might be considered renegades -- because they are so devout.

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The lives of the Fairfax County couple and their five young children revolve around the Catholic Church, and they stand out as devoted because so many others do not follow the teachings of their church to the letter.

For the Hickeys and a community of young, conservative Washington area Catholics who piously follow the teachings of the church, Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Washington next week carries a special meaning.

They appreciate Benedict for his unwavering advocacy of what they hold to be "Catholic": ancient liturgical practices such as the traditional Latin Mass, the supremacy of the Catholic Church, Gregorian chants in worship and theologians who concur with the pope's teachings. As the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog for 24 years before becoming pope, Benedict earned this group's devotion.

"I love Pope Benedict," said Karen Hickey, 35, who keeps a bust of him on her piano. "He's done so much good in the little time that he's been there."

Young, orthodox Catholics are more enthusiastic about Benedict than are many in the older generation, said Colleen Carroll Campbell, author of "The New Faithful," a book about the youthful set. "They like his countercultural stance on a lot of things. . . . They also like his emphasis on Catholic identity and fidelity to Catholic doctrine."

But even Benedict in person isn't enough to draw some traditional Catholics to the papal Mass next week at Nationals Park. They feel it will be too informal for their taste, and many dislike the idea of receiving Communion standing up instead of kneeling at an altar rail.

Chris Paulitz, a Senate aide, says he won't go, but he will show his support for Benedict by going to see him pass in the popemobile.

Such young Catholics' strict obedience to the tenets of their faith makes them an anomaly in their generation. Only 14 percent of Catholics ages 20 to 40 attend Mass at least weekly, according to research by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, and just one in five goes to confession once a year or more.

For conservative Catholics, that's unthinkable.

"You have to live your faith and practice, not just learn the doctrine," said Anne Francoise Guelcher, 40, the mother of six children -- ages 15 months to 14 years -- who lives with husband James in Montclair, Va.

Guelcher home-schools her children. "That way, I can really teach them about the faith," she says.


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