What does it mean to be Catholic?
A Catholic is someone who belongs to the Catholic Church. The word “catholic” means “universal.” The Catholic Church is the Church in which Christians of every nation of the world are united in professing a single Faith, celebrating the same Sacraments, and striving to live the same moral life.
All Catholics live “in communion” (that is, in unity of faith and life) with the pope. The current pope is Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Bergoglio, elected in 2013. Union with the pope is the surest and simplest indication that someone is a Catholic.
The Church is also “universal” through time – Catholics today have the same Faith, Sacraments and moral principles as our predecessors have had since the time of the Apostles.
What does a Catholic believe?
A Catholic believes many things, but all Catholic doctrine is based on two central convictions:
First, we believe that God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to be our Redeemer and Savior. This belief we have in common with all traditional Christians.
Second, we believe that Jesus Christ did not leave us with only a message when He rose from the dead and returned to the right hand of the Father. He founded a Church, in which He is present and at work until the last day when He comes again. This is the distinctive belief of Catholics.
Why would someone believe that second part?
If you believe the first point above (that God sent His Son to the world), it makes sense to believe the second (that the Son gave the world a Church). The two are very closely related!
The invisible, eternal, immortal Father made Himself available to the world through an actual Person who could be seen and heard and known: the Lord Jesus.
And Jesus Christ chose to remain available in the world through a visible Church, which can be known and seen and heard.
The Father was not content to send us only a message; He wanted to be really with us in the Person of His Son. The Son did not want to leave us with only a message; He wanted to remain with us in the Church (which we call His "Mystical Body") and in the Sacraments (in which He is truly present and at work).
Why the Catholic Church?
We believe that the Catholic Church is that visible church founded by Jesus Christ because of the historical record.
When Jesus was on earth with His Apostles, He said to Simon Peter: "You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." In this and many other places in the New Testament, it is clear that Peter is chief of the Apostles.
To carry out the mission Christ gave him, Peter went to Rome -- then the capital of the world. It makes sense, the man responsible for the whole Church should be in the center of the world! After 25 years in Rome, Peter was martyred there (that is, put to death for his loyalty to Christ). The famous Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican was built above his grave.
After Peter's death, his place as head of the Church in Rome was taken by a man named Linus, also martyred; then Cletus, also martyred; then Clement, also martyred. We can trace the entire, unbroken line of successors to St. Peter. The first two dozen of them were martyrs. And the 265th successor of St. Peter is Pope Francis. Our union with him is what gives us confidence that we belong to the One Church that Christ founded.
What about the other Apostles?
As we believe that the pope is the successor of St. Peter, we believe that the bishops of the Catholic Church in union with the pope are the successors of the Apostles.
The Catholic Church is divided into geographical units called dioceses. Each diocese is governed by a bishop, who is a successor of the Apostles.
There is a diocese centered in the City of Madison. It includes 11 counties of southern Wisconsin, which encompass over 100 parishes and over 250,000 Catholics. Our current bishop is the Most Reverend Robert Morlino.
In each diocese, one church is designated as the cathedral. This is the church containing the bishop's chair ("cathedra" in Latin), from which he symbolically oversees the diocese. (In fact, he does it mostly from an office.)
Historic St. Raphael (located in downtown Madison) served as the cathedral of the Diocese of Madison from 1946 (when the diocese was established) until it was destroyed by fire in 2005. A new St. Raphael Cathedral is planned on the same site; once built, it will serve as the "mother church" of the Diocese of Madison.