Seminarians keen to embrace collaborative ministry
Future priests will be better equipped to harness the gifts of people in the pews to lead parishes collaboratively, says rector of the Good Shepherd Fr Michael de Stoop.
Amid a trend of declining and ageing congregations is an awareness that the power of the Gospel message still remains largely untapped in the Church and that its priests must respond to a rapidly-evolving pastoral landscape.
“Years ago, when a man was ordained to the priesthood there was a whole culture there to support him in his ministry.” -Fr Michael de Stoop
“Our seminary program needs to move with the times,” said Fr de Stoop. “That is vital, because if we wait until they are ordained they’re not going to be ready to make the most of the opportunities they will encounter or the challenges they will face, and may quickly become disillusioned. The people of God deserve this as well.”
Fr de Stoop spoke to The Catholic Weekly following a special week of formation for the seminarians presented by Archdiocese of Sydney’s Evangelisation and Parish Renewal team.
Over four days the program covered evangelisation, parish renewal, leadership, the role of the priest and the use of invitational programs such as Alpha to introduce people to the Christian faith.
Guest speakers included Fr James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation, Fr Mauro Conte and Vanessa Cominos of Our Lady of the Cross in Springfield in Queensland, and Fr Chris Ryan MGL, the parish priest of Penshurst and Peakhurst parishes and director of the Areté Centre.
“It was important that they were able to hear about some success stories and also have opportunities to learn how they can address the challenges the Church is facing,” said Fr de Stoop. “Years ago, when a man was ordained to the priesthood there was a whole culture there to support him in his ministry.
“It is quite different today and there are things we need to address as we move from a maintenance to a missionary model of parish life.”
Need to discern ‘new ways’ of sharing the Gospel
Evangelisation and Parish Renewal manager Elizabeth Arblaster agreed. “Some of the structures and programs that worked so well in the past don’t reach people as effectively now because the pastoral landscape has changed,” she said.
“We need to discern new ways for people to encounter the eternal Jesus Christ in His Church. This requires some courage on our part and an openness to the Holy Spirit, who has always inspired great creativity in the Church’s mission to lead people to the Lord.
“As many people would say, we are moving from an era of cultural Catholicism into a missionary or apostolic age where we’re going out and evangelising the hearts of our baptised people who haven’t been with us as much as we want them to, and then those who don’t know Christ.
“I can see in these seminarians a great preparedness to go into a place and think, ‘what are the things people need here and how can we really reach them’, and they also need the resources and formation to be able to do that.”
Shayne D’Cunha, a third year seminarian for the Diocese of Broken Bay, said that he had gained a better appreciation of the importance of good priestly leadership. “Understanding that it is ok that I don’t need to have all the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit is a great consolation,” he said.
Ben Saliba who is due to be ordained to the priesthood this year, said the experience gave him a new-found enthusiasm to build and grow the Church in Sydney, “introducing the love of God into the lives of each person we meet”.
“…ours is a Church driven by the Holy Spirit, not merely our own efforts.” -Seminarian Ben Saliba
“I was very much impressed with what the Parish Renewal team had to say and more importantly was humbled to know that they are willing to work with any parish that wants them to come on board,” he added.
“Most importantly, it was the spirit of prayer that they approached each day with, relying on God and reminding us that ours is a Church driven by the Holy Spirit, not merely our own efforts.”
Fr de Stoop said a collaborative approach to ministry requires a shift in attitude not only for older generations but for upcoming leaders today. “It will always demand a degree of humility because it means saying, look I need your help because together and only with the grace of God can we achieve this,” he said.