The conviction that Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP had on the day of his appointment, that he would be planning for growth and not decline, is bearing fruit behind the scenes.
The Catholic Weekly caught up with Vicar General Fr Gerry Gleeson about the progress of Parish 2020, a major pastoral planning project in the archdiocese, designed to help the Church meet the emerging pastoral needs of the city – wherever they are required.
The project was launched in parishes throughout Sydney in December 2016 with an archdiocese-wide consultation.
(The results, which revealed that Catholics were relatively happy about their parishes and their own level of involvement, can be viewed at www.sydneycatholic.org).
The relative quiet since then belies a hive of thinking about where to go next, but its foundational conviction remains: Catholics must become missionary in their outlook, dying – figuratively speaking – to tell the people around them about the love of God. “The goal is to expand and reinvigorate what we’re doing,” Fr Gleeson said.
“But that involves, on the one hand, a new sense of missionary motivation, and on the other hand a consolidation which strengthens the parishes.”
Long-settled and more affluent parts of Sydney – many once the heartland of burgeoning, working class populations – have an abundance of churches, located relatively close together.
The Archbishop’s message for Parish 2020 in December 2016
New areas of rapid growth – such as Mascot – and relatively new cultural developments, such as large-scale apartment living, demand new resources and new ways of doing things.
“The Archbishop has been very clear on this: the goal is not to close parishes and reduce what we are doing,” Fr Gerry said.
“It means the renewal of every parish in the archdiocese.”
Small parishes are also increasingly subject to greater financial burdens and government reporting demands. And that too points to the need to do think afresh.
“The challenge for the many small, struggling parishes is that they are not big enough to have the resources to do what we need to do today – to employ the people we need to employ.
“If they do collaborate with other parishes, then they can employ the youth ministers, the musicians, the RCIA people we need.
“It’s collaboration between parishes which will strengthen them.”
The next few months will be focused on heightening the missionary dimension, beginning with the pastors of the extreme majority of Catholic people, the priests.