Parishes called to become centres for evangelization

December 29, 2014
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Canadian parishes are in need of "profound conversion" so that they can fulfill their call to evangelization, says a statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Parishes are called to be missionary – not necessarily to foreign countries – but primarily to those around them," says the statement, The Missionary Dynamic of the Parish Today.

The 11-page exhortation notes that some parishes are already experimenting with "new ways of Christian living," and it urges them to step out into their neighbourhoods to propose the faith and invite those who do not practise that faith to encounter Christ "through a vibrant parish community."

The document, developed by the CCCB's Episcopal Commission for Doctrine, was released Dec. 8.

It repeatedly quotes Pope Francis, especially his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, in encouraging parishes to live out their missionary mandate.

Also quoted are several Canadian bishops, mainly from Quebec, who speak about the need to expand ministry beyond the maintenance of existing parish structures to "the reinvigoration of the missionary calling of the people of God."

STATUS QUO

Among those quoted is Archbishop GĂ©rald Lacroix of Quebec City who, noting the Church's diminishing financial and human resources, says, "the status quo is no longer possible."

The Missionary Dynamic repeatedly emphasizes the importance of welcoming newcomers to the parish as crucial in the building of community and living the Gospel.

It calls on parishes to devise "new and creative programs of outreach," which could be as simple as inviting people to Mass or informing them of parish services.

"What is important, however, is that parishioners go out and bear witness to people outside of their parish community."

That witness should be one of sharing the joy that Catholics find in their faith, rather than imposing new obligations upon people, the document says. "The best way for a parish to attract people is to have a vibrant pastoral life."

The bishops paint a gloomy portrait of the Church in contemporary society. Parishes are affected by a society where there are profound inequalities, an erosion of shared values and "a loss of the traditional points of reference."

PARISH CLOSURES

While in some major urban centres, new churches are being built, in other dioceses, parishes are being closed, clustered and merged.

Society is increasingly secularized. There is a denial of any mention of God, faith and reason are being falsely opposed to each other, the transcendent dimension of the human person is being lost, a cultural and moral relativism questions the meaning of life, people suffer from "a consumer mentality" and there is "a growing spiritual malaise."

The Church is seeing a decline in weekly Mass attendance, aging and shrinking congregations, and a diminished importance placed on the Lord's Day and the sacraments. Moreover, family life is being eroded and publicly-funded Catholic school systems in Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador have been abolished.

Yet, these "signs of crisis" can also be viewed as "opportunities for renewal," says the bishops' document.

A recognition of our need to know Christ can lead to "the ongoing formation of all parishioners" and "the continual evaluation of parish programs." The goal, it says, quoting Pope Francis, should be to foster "a personal encounter with Christ."

STEPS TO REVITALIZATION

Parishes can be revitalized by improved preaching and turning to the Scriptures as well as by catechetical initiatives that help people to understand and celebrate the Sunday Eucharist and to engage in lectio divina, devotions, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and contemplation.

The parish's presence in society can be strengthened through social action projects that serve the poor and marginalized and promote every person's right to life. Quoted again is Pope Francis urging Catholics to "go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the 'peripheries' in need of the light of the Gospel."

Young people and their families must not be forgotten, the bishops say. Youth "continue to thirst for authenticity, goodness and truth." Effective youth and young adult ministry can give a distinctive character to the Church as well as bearing fruit in vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, lay ministry and healthy, holy families.

PRAYER CRUCIAL

The most important aspect of parish renewal is prayer and trust in the Lord, the bishops say. A faithful, intense relationship with God enables one to get out of ourselves and to candidly proclaim the Gospel.

"The great treasure held within the parish," the bishops conclude, "is not any temporal wealth, but rather the living God revealed in Jesus Christ and made present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom the world so desperately needs."