Pray with the Pope: September 2017
Faith and the Parish
That our parishes may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.
Most Catholics don’t preach the Gospel on commuter trains or on street corners. Maybe we should, but the fact is that historically the great engines of evangelisation have been our institutions: our hospitals and clinics, our schools and universities, and our parishes.
Witnessing in Concrete Ways
In our mission territories, institutions promoting health and education have been part and parcel of our missionary strategy. These were run by religious and were dependent on a generous supply of religious vocations—though today we are slowly learning how to keep them functioning under lay leadership.
Where religious vocations are in decline, the most obvious Catholic institution still standing is the parish. This makes this month’s papal intention doubly important: that parishes be animated by a missionary spirit, not just a spirit of maintenance.
They must be places where insiders and outsiders experience faith in action. They must witness in concrete ways to the love of God — caritas.
Parish Priests and Catechetical Teams
This places a heavy responsibility on the parish priest — to give the kind of leadership which empowers people to play their full part in communicating the faith and showing forth the love of God.
The catechetical team who are at the forefront of the evangelisation effort has a particular need for the parish priest’s encouragement. A question that priests might ask themselves is how often they turn up to support their catechists or their RCIA animators, their evangelical frontline.
A more fundamental question here is: Does the parish priest in fact see himself as a missionary, regardless of whether he is a diocesan priest or a religious? Moreover, is he willing to go out and preach the Gospel where it is needed?
Location is clearly a vital consideration and it requires creative planning at the parish and diocesan level. You cannot preach the Gospel where the population has disappeared. Decisive leadership is needed to position the Church in new neighbourhoods.
Or perhaps the traditional population has been replaced by immigrants. Outreach then obviously means welcoming the newcomers and finding out about them and their culture.
In parts of the US, the clergy need to be fluent in both Spanish and English. If we do not reach out like this, Catholic immigrants will drift to those churches with such wonderfully charismatic names as Rivers of Fire Ministries. Our parishes may not have very incandescent-sounding names but that won’t matter if they do have the fire of Gospel zeal. But do they? Do we?
Shopping Malls and Airports
Some have suggested that some of our churches should be in or near shopping malls, visible and close to where people are to be found in their daily, working lives.
Similar initiatives have been taken in busy airports, with chaplains being at the service of travellers and workers.
I knew a chaplain at London’s Heathrow who used to meet his “parishioners” at lunchtime in the terminal cafeteria. Such a ministry of weekday availability can also require teamwork, as is the case in some city centre parishes in which a priest or other pastoral worker is always available, or “on the bell”.
It’s Hard Work
This approach to ministry presupposes apostles who are energetic, imaginative and flexible. Food for thought for seminary formators!
To accompany people and proclaim the Gospel to them where they are — not where they are not — is hard work and can drag us kicking and screaming out of our comfort zones. But then, the Master himself was not one to get stuck in one place. “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns so I can preach there as well, for that is why I have come,” he says to his disciples (Mk 1:38).
What was good enough for him is probably good enough for us. We pray for our parishes and those who work in them and out of them.