Archbishop Naumann continues his pastoral visits
by Joe Bollig
FRANKFORT — Nemaha and Marshall counties, in the far northwestern corner of the archdiocese, are picture postcard Kansas.
Here, straight asphalt roads slice through open, undulating countryside. The spaces are big, and the towns are small.
On March 8 and 9, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann visited three parishes in the Nemaha-Marshall pastoral region led by Father James Shaughnessy: Annunciation in Frankfort, St. Joseph in Lillis, and St. Monica-St. Elizabeth in Blue Rapids.
In a sense, every visit by the archbishop is a special occasion, but he wasn’t there to confirm or dedicate a new structure. Rather, he was continuing to fulfill a commitment he made in 2004 — when he was still coadjutor — to make a pastoral visit to every parish in the archdiocese.
So far, it’s 83 down and 27 to go.
“The purpose of the pastoral visit is for me to get a picture of our parishes as they normally are on a weekend,” said the archbishop.
“That’s helpful for me, to actually experience the [regular] Sunday liturgies,” he continued, “and to meet with some of the parish leadership to get more insight as to what’s actually happening in individual parishes and collectively throughout the archdiocese.”
The format of the pastoral visit to all parishes is basically the same. The archbishop preaches at all the weekend Masses and meets and greets after each one.
He also holds informal meetings with the parish youth and the parish leadership, and sometimes dines with the parish staff.
He’s discovered in his many travels, however, that no matter how similar the format, every parish is different. Each has its own strengths and challenges, but it also has a distinct personality all its own.
“I think one of the strengths of these rural communities is that there is a real sense of belonging, and everyone knows each other,” said Archbishop Naumann. “But a lot of times they struggle, because they don’t have the same staff that the big suburban parishes do to provide a range of pastoral experiences and opportunities.”
Pastoral visits are important not only because they give parishioners and the archbishop an opportunity to interact, but also because they strengthen the bonds between the parish and the archdiocese, and, by extension, with the universal church around the world.
“A pastoral visit from the bishop is also an opportunity for the parish to be more aware of its essential connection to the larger church,” said the archbishop during his homily on March 9 at Annunciation Parish.
“Parish life is so important in our experience of our Catholic faith,” he continued, “but as important as parish life is, it’s not the whole of our identity as Catholics. We’re not congregationalists.
“Our very name ‘Catholic’ means universal, and to really be the church Jesus calls us to be, we must cultivate our relationship with the larger church. We belong to a large faith family. We have more than 1 billion brothers and sisters in Christ on every continent in the world.”
In his session with the youth of the parish, the archbishop recalled a visit to a youth rally by Pope John Paul II during his 1999 visit to St. Louis. There, the pope called upon young people to “be light as only young people can be light.” The archbishop suggested the youths could be that light right now — by studying their faith, living a chaste life, striving to live a life of service, and thinking about what God wanted them to do with their lives. That might include vocations to the priesthood or religious life.
“We need thousands of Mother Teresas today in the world, but where will they come from if not from some of you?” said the archbishop. “We also need great priests today.”
In his meeting with lay leaders from the three parishes, Archbishop Naumann said he wanted to share five pastoral priorities that have been given by Christ to the church: conversion, evangelization, catechesis, service to those in need, and stewardship.
The archbishop asked the parish leaders to consider these priorities, particularly at this important juncture in their churches’ history. Currently, the Nemaha-Marshall Region is undergoing the pastoral planning process that several other regions have already completed. The challenge facing parishes today is how to remain viable and vital in a time of shortage of vocations to the priesthood.
“One of the things it has done is made the parishes think about how they can be more vital, which is good,” said the archbishop. “That’s the kind of question we want our parishes to ask.”