“The parish cannot be identified merely as a building or a series of structures.” This is found in the Instruction, The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church. It was promulgated by Congregation for the Clergy but, in my opinion, it has Pope Francis’ ideas throughout. So, I’ll take the liberty to say it’s from him. He can call me if he disagrees.
The idea of a parish is so much richer than a geographic area or building. At its most fundamental level, the parish celebrates the memory of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord. Yet, a parish is more. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory. It bears witness to the Faith and charity. It lives in a permanent state of mission. Here people can hear God’s Word and grow in the Christian life. They can dialogue with others and reach out in charity. It is a place of divine worship and human celebration.
This solitary life-giving message should exclude no one. A parish of the future will have to assume “quite new and different contours.” This will depend on the missionary creativity of the community and the pastor.
Unfortunately, so many parishes Pope Francis sees today seem to be insular. Current parish structures are out of touch with the people. They have become self-absorbed groups made up of a chosen few. (The guy certainly doesn’t mince words, does he?) He also says that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to all people. Parishes need to become environments of living communion and participation that are mission-oriented.
Most likely, this is one of the reasons behind Pope Francis’ call to the 2023 Synod on Synodality. Synodality is the way the Church comes together to meet, listen, and discern the voice of the Holy Spirit. Several months ago, Saint Monica entered into this process. We held a Synod Listening Session at the parish. This session examined and discussed several questions proposed by the Holy Father. Saint Monica also held several focus groups. They looked at the information received from the Disciple Maker Index questionnaire. In this way, we are doing a deeper dive into what the Holy Spirit is telling the hearts of the people of Saint Monica.
Pope Francis mentions an interesting way by which parishes can become missionary outposts. For example, he suggests parish pilgrimages to various shrines. Shrines are precious instruments. They can strengthen fraternal communion. They open up ports to the Holy Spirit. They are places of great beauty. They allow parishioners to welcome people on the fringes into our parish community in a non-threatening way. Visits to a shrine also do another important spiritual task. They can provide an area for interior searching. The physical space of a shrine is an opportunity to go deep into the spiritual space of their hearts. One can encounter the merciful face of God and share this moment with others. In this way, the parish becomes a place of welcome. It can bring people on the fringes to a new place in their relationship with the Lord.
Finally, Pope Francis says that the parish needs to be a sanctuary. It should reach out to everyone without exception. The poor have a privileged place in the heart of the Church. They must have a particular place in the heart of the parish. We are called to find Christ in the poor and then lend our voice to their causes.
The poor also are gifts to us, writes Pope Francis. We need to become their friends. We need to listen to them and not just speak for them. We need to embrace their mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.