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Transitions and the Pastoral Conversion of the Parish (Part 2)

“The reflection of the Church on the Second Vatican Council, together with considerable social and cultural changes in recent decades, has resulted in churches and parishes in dioceses having to re-organize the manner in which the pastoral care of parish communities are carried out.”

That is the opening sentence of the document. “The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church (I know … a long sentence starting a document with an even longer title.) In 2020, Pope Francis requested the document be published. It was put together by the Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican.

It lays out a broad and rich conversation about parishes. There is a call for a renovation of the parish within the context of the world – a world that recently came out of a pandemic. It analyzes parish life and parish mission as compared to the way both were done before. It widens the lens and makes suggestions on how entire dioceses might restructure themselves to be more effective. It considers whether there is room for new, more effective diocesan subdivisions, besides a parish, within a diocese. Thus it mentions quasi-parishes, mission stations, pastoral centers, and Oratories. It lays out various roles for people. Not surprisingly, this includes priests, administrators, deacons, pastors, consecrated men, and women. It also talks about new roles. It mentions Co-Pastor, Chaplain, Parish Manager, Coordinator, Deacon Cooperator, Pastoral Cooperator, Pastoral Associate, or Assistant. It looks at bodies of co-responsibility. This includes small communities of lay faithful, Finance Councils, and Pastoral Councils.

The document is 35 pages and has 11 sections. The first six are the most relevant for parishes. They include:

  1. Pastoral Conversion
  2. The Parish in a Contemporary Context
  3. The Value of the Parish Today
  4. Mission – The Guiding Principle for Renewal
  5. A Community of Communities – A Parish That is Inclusive, Evangelizing, and Attentive to the Poor.
  6. From the Conversion of People to That of Structures (Pope Francis always seems keen on talking about changing structures).

Let’s begin by looking at the first section, “Pastoral Conversion.”

Pastoral conversion was a central theme of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Evangelium Gaudii. He writes that parishes today need to be centers that are conducive to an encounter with Christ. (Perhaps Saint Monica is onto something. Every weekend we announce Saint Monica as a place to “Encounter Christ Through the Word, Liturgy, Charity, and Community.” How well are we doing that?) Many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light, and consolation born of a friendship with Jesus Christ. They do not have a community of faith to support them and to help provide them meaning and a goal in life.

Francis says that part of this might be structural. Parishes can give a false sense of security. They become places with rules that make harsh judgments. They possess habits that make parishioners feel safe. Yet outside, others are going astray. People at the door are starving. Frances quotes Matthew 6:37, “Give them something to eat.”

By entering into local neighborhoods, the parish can enrich communities. The fruitful and creative encounter between the Gospel and the culture leads to true progress in a community. It does the same for the wider society. Parishes need to “become flesh and live among us” (John 1:14). The document’s directive is for the parish to make, “determined missionary decisions.“

The Christian community must be capable of transforming everything. The Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times schedules, languages, and structures can be suitably challenged. This is needed for the evangelization of today’s world rather than merely for parish self-preservation.” (This last quote is also taken from Evangelium Gaudii).

Next time, let’s examine “Part 2: The Parish in the Contemporary Context” and Part 3, The Value of the Parish Today.”

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