Pope Francis: Mission: The Guiding Principle

What does evangelization encompass according to Pope Francis? In “The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community,” Section IV, we read that it will be necessary to identify perspectives that allow for the renewal of “traditional” parish structures into a parish emphasis in terms of “mission.” The Holy Father provides a few places to examine. They are not as strange or unusual as one might think.

The first three areas are (1) proclamation of the Word, (2) the sacramental life of the parish and (3) witness of charity. These are “the essential areas in which the parish grows and conforms to the Mystery in which it believes” according to the Holy Father.

An effective proclamation of the Word has a transformative effect. Scripture has an interior power that brings about the conversion of hearts. We have seen this first hand at Saint Monica in the impact of such Scripture-based initiatives as Walking With Purpose and That Man is You. One of the challenges facing parishes is that so many Catholics are significantly ignorant of Scripture. Over the past decades, for millions of Catholics, the only connection has been a few minutes listening to the Scripture readings at Mass on Sunday. Any explanation of the Bible has been limited to a 10 or 15 minute homily. Pope Francis says that this situation can no longer continue. Scripture needs to be interwoven into the day-to-day life of the believer. However, the parish first needs to provide instruction on how to listen and meditate on the Word of God. A variety of approaches are currently available to people that were not present even a few years ago. Solid scriptural commentaries can be purchased or found online. Ascension Press has produced numerous Bible study courses. FORMED is a resource available to parishioners of Saint Monica that contains a wealth of Scripture resources.

The second important aspect of a mission-based parish involves the Eucharist. Celebrating the Eucharist is the most important thing that the Catholic Church does; it is the summit of our faith. It is also the source of Christian life. It provides a direct, physical and spiritual encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic feast gathers the people of God together in community. Through this encounter, the Christian becomes aware of the reason and meaning of the Church. It provides the important opportunity to praise, implore, intercede and give thanks.

To do this, Pope Francis proposes rediscovering the Rite of Christian Initiation (or RCIA). Some would say, “Oh, that’s not for me. That’s for people who are thinking of coming into the Church and becoming Catholic.” The Holy Father says that most Catholics today need these rites associated with Christian Initiation. The rites form a foundation on which an effective parish adult catechetical program can be built. It offers the opportunity for people to start on an exciting rite of passage - a journey and pilgrimage of renewal of one’s faith.

Finally, Pope Francis talks about service, but from an interesting perspective. The Holy Father does not see service as one group of people simply helping another. The Pope talks about building a “culture of encounter” within a parish. This encounter is person-centered. It becomes a place of dialogue, solidarity, and openness to others. It affords a place to build connections, community and relationships. People begin to develop a sense of belonging and being wanted. In order to do this, parishes will need to develop new skills. Parishioners will have to learn how to become “masters of accompaniment.” In this atmosphere, the thirsty come to drink, solitude is overcome, and people journey together on a common mission.

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