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Fr Josh Miechels: Bringing parishes alive

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Pope Francis has summoned what we see as ordinary parishes to be burning, faithful centres of evangelisation. PHOTO: CNS
Pope Francis has summoned what we see as ordinary parishes to be burning, faithful centres of evangelisation. PHOTO: CNS

Just recently, Pope Francis asked the parishes of the world to change.

He makes this clear in the very title of the Instruction he personally approved in June, The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church.

What does this mean?

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It means parishes continue to be at the heart of mission of the Church, and of the New Evangelisation: “‘Whilst the Parish is perfected and integrated in a variety of forms, it nevertheless remains an indispensable organism of primary importance in the visible structure of the Church’, whereby ‘evangelisation is the cornerstone of all pastoral action, the demands of which are primary, preeminent and preferential.”

Like each one of us, then, and like the whole Church around the world, our parishes, too, are called to conversion: “If the Parish does not exude that spiritual dynamic of evangelisation, it runs the risk of becoming self-referential and fossilised, offering experiences that are devoid of evangelical flavour and missionary drive, of interest only to small groups.”

The Instruction lays out Pope Francis’ four-step proposal for doing so.

  1. To restart some of the key means from our rich tradition which may have been lacking in recent decades: “faithful to her own tradition and at the same time conscious of her universal mission.”A good example is the unexpected three paragraphs the document spends advocating a reboot to pilgrimages to shrines – an experience currently foreign to many millennial Catholics.

    Desired too is attention to the sacrifice of the Mass (“the essential moment for the building up of the parish community”), prayer and Eucharistic adoration, catechesis and charity to the poor and needy “the poor and excluded must always have a privileged place in the heart of the Church.”

  2. Due to social change in commitment and relationships to particular places and people, and our far deeper immersion in the virtual world, the Pope expects us to be open to work with each other and other groups within and beyond our parish boundaries: in other words – no silos.
  3. We are also asked for a new openness to doing things in our parishes we have not done before, or done in ways we have not done before: because “mere repetitive action that fails to have an impact upon people’s concrete lives remains a sterile attempt at survival, which is usually welcomed by general indifference.”
  4. Finally the Pope asks us to better work together in an authentic complementarity of states of life. Lay people, for example, are not marionettes of the religious and clergy. All the baptised are “protagonists of evangelisation”. Sent out to evangelise the homes, work and public spaces they dominate, each layperson has their place to “work with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community for its growth and life.”

Religious too have their own irreplaceable role – not because of anything they have to do first – but by the very nature of their state of life, “derived firstly, from their ‘being’, that is, from the witness of a radical following of Christ through the profession of the evangelical counsels, and only secondly from their ‘doing”.

The priests also have their particular and irreplaceable role in our parishes as pastor, shepherd.

No pastoral activity is done in the name of the parish which is not supervised by him, nor is a lay or religious designated “‘pastor’, ‘co-pastor’, ‘chaplain’, ‘moderator’, ‘coordinator’, ‘Parish manager”. Rather, “Pastors have the task of keeping this dynamic alive, so that the baptised realise that they are protagonists of evangelisation.

The presbyterate, whose formation is ongoing, must exercise the art of discernment with prudence, in such a way as to allow the life of the Parish, with its diversity of vocations and ministries, to grow and mature.”

Praise God for this varied and purposeful life we are called to share in!


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