It’s as if the Holy Father is talking to us, right here in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
In a speech he gave to leaders of the Diocese of Rome May 14, Pope Francis said, “Our parishes must be capable … of offering and creating relationships where people feel that they are known, recognized, welcomed, listened to, loved — in other words, not anonymous parts of a whole.”
He went on to note that parishes often opt to do things the ways they’ve always been done, investing resources in programs that no longer meet the needs of the day.
The Holy Father told diocesan leaders — including clergy, religious and laity — that renewal begins with “learning to discern where God already is present in very ordinary forms of holiness.” To move forward, he noted, communities must look at “the slaveries — the illnesses — that have ended up making us sterile.”
Pope Francis’ observations should ring a bell for parishioners and clergy engaged in the Archdiocese of Louisville’s parish discernment process.
The process asks parishes to pray, listen to emerging needs, celebrate what parishes already do well and discern what God is calling them to in the future. The final step is to develop resources to move forward.
So far, more than 70 parishes have entered into this process.
The Diocese of Rome has done something similar, though their process has a more somber tone. Rome’s study, which began in Lent, specifically asked parishes to identify “spiritual illnesses.” The diocese presented its report to Pope Francis May 14.
Their findings revealed something many of us may find relatable. As Pope Francis put it, they found “a general and healthy exhaustion” borne of repeating things that affect fewer and fewer people.
Archdiocese of Louisville parishes likely recognized similar challenges during the discernment process, but parishes didn’t dwell on these things in their reports. Instead, their reports offered ideas and actions that might bring new life to parish ministry.
As reporter Jessica Able notes in a page one story this week, the parish discernment process here in central Kentucky focused hopes for the future in three areas of ministry — education and formation, family life and service and outreach.
Parishes have emphasized a need to address the needs of youth and young adults, enhance ministry to families, improve communication and better connect English-speaking parishioners and those who speak Spanish.
Many of the parishes have also identified the need for and strategies to improve social outreach to the poor and marginalized.
The parishes that have engaged in this process should be commended. It’s not easy to examine oneself with a critical eye and develop new vision for the future. But it’s certainly a way to live more fully as the Body of Christ.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz called for this process to begin in his pastoral letter, written in late 2016: “Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst.”
Inviting parishes to take part, he writes, “Through prayer, reflection on God’s word and church teachings, and our collaborative efforts to proclaim and live the Good News of Jesus Christ, we seek to carry out our mission faithfully and cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit so that this Archdiocese will grow in faith, hope, and love. Please join me in becoming more deeply who we are: the Body of Christ here in Central Kentucky.”
More than 1,000 people and 19 parishes joined in this process last summer and fall. This spring and summer, many more parishioners and parishes are engaged in the process. This promises a hopeful future for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Back in Rome earlier this week, Pope Francis urged Romans to dedicate the next year to a “preparation of their backpacks” and head toward a “new land” of pastoral ministry that’s “more responsive to the mission and needs of Romans today.”
May we do the same, right here in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
As the archdiocese’s prayer for discernment asks, in part, “May we be a community that exists not for ourselves, but for your saving mission. Most of all, may we embody your son Jesus, alive in our midst.”