International News

Bishops of Americas Discuss New Models for Parishes

by David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) – Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, recalled once having a parish that needed a new furnace and was considering hiring a youth pastor. The parishioners raised $90,000 in three weeks for the furnace but failed to find funds for the youth pastor, figuring there were few young people to serve.

Archbishop Prendergast cited the story as an example of “the maintenance model of the church versus a missionary model of the church.” It’s a model that has been deployed by too many dioceses in the U.S. and Canada and one that some senior clergy recognize as outdated and doing nothing to put people in church pews or contribute to parish life – much less increasing the kingdom of God.

Missionary Mindset

Pope Francis wants that to change and has called on Catholics to adopt a more audacious, missionary mindset.

But several U.S. and Canadian Church leaders at a Mexico City conference on the new evangelization said that means a new mindset in countries where people are becoming cultural Catholics or “consumers of religion” and fail to make mission a priority.

“Our job in parishes and dioceses is not just to take care of the people we’ve got, but to welcome back those who have left and to invite new ones,” New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan told Catholic News Service.

“If you want to see a model where the faith is nurtured, where people are fed, American parishes get an A+,” Cardinal Dolan said. “If you want to look at a parish going out, getting new people, bringing them in, reviving the faith of people whose faith is lethargic, then we probably get a C.”

The cardinal’s observations reflect those of Pope Francis, who previously told his priests to get out of their parishes and take the Gospel to the most marginalized members of their communities. The pope also admonished them to reject a “functional” approach, saying it would leave “no room for mystery” and reduce the Church to little more than a nongovernmental organization.

“We need, and Pope Francis has reminded us of this … to look at our institutions (such as parishes and dioceses) not as businesses, but as homes,” Cardinal Dolan said. “They’re missionary endeavors, and they provide a spiritual home.”

The U.S and Canadian Church leaders said carrying out mission work closer to home is nothing new. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recalled reaching out to those whose faith was tepid or had fallen away from the Church

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