Pope Francis: The Parish in a Contemporary Context | Fr. Charles Zlock
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Pope Francis: The Parish in a Contemporary Context

Recently Archbishop Perez spoke with the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. They were in Hershey for the 2022 Priest Convocation. During the gathering, the archbishop shared three goals that he has for Philadelphia:

  1. Move from crisis to hope.
  2. Build up new resources to fulfill the Church’s mission.
  3. Establish a culture of missionary discipleship. This needs to be done in the archdiocese and each of the parishes.

According to Pope Francis, parishes will need to be transformed into a culture of missionary discipleship. This will need changes in the current ways parishes see themselves and act. (See “The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church” - July 20, 2020). This means that the parish structure will need to change too.

Some things will not change. The parish will continue to be a community gathered around the Table of the Word and the Eucharist. The emphasis of St. Monica on providing people with an opportunity to ”Encounter Christ through Word” and “Through Liturgy” seems spot on. What is different for the Holy Father is where that table is located. Pope St. John Paul II once talked about the parish as a “house among houses.” (See Pope John Paul II: On the Call of the Laity). The Word of God is to be read in the church building proper. His thought is that this should be a secondary table of the Word. The idea of the “Table of the Word” needs to be expanded. The primary place where the Word of God is heard, studied, and applied is in the home.

Pope Francis writes: “With the advent of the digital age, especially post-Covid, “the territorial configuration of the parish must confront a peculiar characteristic of our contemporary world. Increased mobility and the digital culture have expanded the confines of parish existence. Today, people are less associated with a definite and immutable geographic context.” We now live in a “global and pluralistic village. The concept of space, language, and behavior” has been altered…” especially in the younger generation.”

The context of territorial affiliation is increasingly less evident. This presents risks - and opportunities. One risk is that, in a world where people interact with others through their screams, actual person-to-person contact can be diminished. “Interpersonal relationships risk being dissolved into a virtual world without any commitment or responsibility towards one’s neighbor.

In my view, this also presents an opportunity. I meet with couples who are preparing for marriage. They say that they are looking for community and connections, for “unity and communion.” (according to Pope Francis). This does not have to happen on the parish campus anymore. Spiritual conversations are taking place more and more off-campus. This is one reason why I meet with people away from 635 First Avenue. A parish rectory can be an intimidating place. Thus, my new parish office is the EmJ Cafe, 30 Main, Nudy’s, Casey’s, and LaCabra (and the occasional sushi restaurant).

This approach helps me to build relationships with them. People are more comfortable in such familiar settings. They find it easier to open up. They discuss deep, personal topics - spiritual and non-spiritual - more readily. They seem more willing to have conversations about Christ and His Church.


Next time, let’s look at Pope Francis’ next topic: The Value of the Parish Today.

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