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Help your parish radiate the joy of the Gospel 

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

In my hometown of St. Louis, there is quite a bit of discussion within the Catholic community regarding a planning process that is designed to reduce significantly the number of parishes.

There is a similar process taking place in the Archdiocese of Omaha. These planning processes have been undertaken because of demographic shifts of Catholic population, fewer active Catholics and a declining number of available priests.

A goal of these pastoral planning initiatives is to improve pastoral ministry by reducing the financial resources devoted to the maintenance of buildings. Another goal is to allocate the limited number of priests to where they are most needed based on the current distribution of the Catholic population. It would allow newly ordained priests to serve as parochial vicars (associate pastors) longer — giving them the opportunity to experience, at least, two parishes and the benefit of being mentored by more than one pastor, before assuming the responsibility of leadership for a parish family. 

Reducing the number of parishes relieves priests from attempting to shoulder the pastoral leadership and administration, in some cases, for as many as four parochial communities. Even though the actual number of parishioners in each parish may be relatively small, still, the pastor has to meet with multiple parish councils and finance councils as well as duplicate organizations for each community. It also could make it possible for priests to live together in community, rather than living alone.

I respect my brother bishops for their fortitude in undertaking such pastoral projects. Consolidating parish communities by reducing the pastoral and sacramental activity at particular locations is never popular. Bishops undertake such projects and bear the criticism that often ensues, because they are convinced it is best for their people.

Similar pastoral planning efforts have taken place in many other archdioceses and dioceses. I will not implement a similar process in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Before closing, merging or consolidating parishes, I have chosen to challenge our parishes to initiate efforts to form parishioners to become, what Pope Francis terms as missionary disciples.

This was the principal goal for the 2019 Enflame Our Hearts convocation. There are many in our society who identify themselves as being spiritual, but not religious.

There are many unchurched individuals in every neighborhood and region. The convocation attempted to surround every pastor with a team of lay leaders eager to assist him with forming the entire parish community to become missionary disciples.

Unfortunately, COVID interrupted those efforts. Now is the time to renew our efforts to form our entire archdiocesan community to be missionary disciples. If you experience your Catholic faith as a great blessing, why would you not be enthused to share this gift with others? We have an obligation to help others know the gift of friendship with Jesus Christ and the joy of life within his church.

If this article has created some anxiety for you, if you are fearful that a future bishop might discern to consolidate or merge parishes, then I encourage you to make it difficult for any future bishop to consider such a pastoral project.

Vibrant parishes, where the joy of the Gospel is visible, and new members are being drawn to join the parish family, make it less likely for a future archbishop to consider reducing the number of parishes. When the Gospel is lived well, it is attractive.

We have what many in our culture are seeking — a community where they come to know the God of revelation, find meaning for their life, are loved and cared for, receive strength and hope in the midst of suffering, find friends who are eager to help them carry the burdens of life in this world and discover their destiny — to live with God and the saints forever. How can we fail to try to share the blessings of our Catholic faith with others?

Finally, every parish family needs to encourage young men from their community to consider the possibility of a priestly vocation. We were blessed to have 10 new men enter seminary formation this year. We have 27 seminarians. God willing, I will ordain three men to the priesthood in May. These are good numbers, but we need more.

The mission fields of northeast Kansas are fertile. Our archdiocese is blessed abundantly in so many ways. The secular culture that marginalizes religious faith, rejecting the possibility of friendship with a loving God while offering many pleasures and material comforts, cannot provide the joy and peace for which our hearts yearn.

We were built to be in communion with God. As St. Augustine famously wrote more than 1,500 years ago, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”

If you are not already a part of the Enflame Our Hearts parish team, contact your pastor and volunteer to help implement your parochial evangelization plan.

Loving marriages, joyful families, virtuous friendships and, most of all, the peace that comes from being in communion with God are the things for which the human heart longs.

Help your parish family radiate the joy of the Gospel of Jesus in your community. Help create vibrant communities of faith that will challenge any future bishop to have to ponder how to provide for a vibrant and growing Catholic community.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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