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June 13, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 17
 

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THE CATHOLIC  DIOCESE OF  RICHMOND

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ARTICLES

‘We’ve Come this Far by Faith’ update

In 2002, the “We’ve Come this Far by Faith” document was written, offering a synopsis of what the Diocese of Richmond values, does well, and the challenges we faced.

In 2010, Bishop DiLorenzo asked the Pastoral Planning Commission to review this document and provide an updated “snapshot of the Diocese.” Besides looking at demographic data for the U.S. and our diocese in particular, a series of focus group meetings were held across the diocese to gain firsthand input.

The most common themes are captured below and will constitute the updated document.

What do we as a diocese value?

All Celebrations of Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

We appreciate good homilies, good music, and meaningful celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.

Engaged youth

We understand the importance of keeping our youth involved in the faith and provide good religious education for them and encourage them to participate in diocesan gatherings with pertinent speakers as opportunities to interact with their peers.

Cultural diversity

We have diversity in clergy, parishioners, parish activities, and liturgy. We understand that being Catholic means being inclusive and recognize we are part of a global Church. We accept and grow when we learn from people of other cultures.

Parishes value corporal works of mercy

Outreach to the poor and marginalized continues to be a hallmark of our diocese, particularly at the local parish level to a variety of people in need.

Accountable business practices

It is important to be good stewards of our resources. We have been entrusted to carry out certain functions with the gifts we are given, therefore we have put checks and balances in place to make sure people act honestly and comply with required reports.

What are the ‘Signs of the Times?

An economically depressed period

Our nation is still recovering from an economic recession and many people are feeling the results of long-term unemployment. This impacts our parishioners individually and personally as well as the strain to meet all the outreach efforts. In addition, it impacts the ability of individuals to support the Church.

More people are not going to church

An attitude of “I’m spiritual, not religious” prevails, where people feel it is no longer necessary to worship as a community.

Crisis of trust in the Church

Not only as a result of the sex abuse revelations in the past 10 years, but also people in authority caught stealing.

Decline in the number of priests and religious sisters

There has been a decrease in the number of priests and religious sisters serving in our diocese and our nation in the past 10 years. In addition, those still serving are aging at a faster rate than they are being replaced.

A polarized culture

There is tension, particularly among ethnic and political groups, which spills into the lives of people as a whole.

Eroding moral values

The breakdown of the family structure, particularly with people living together outside of marriage. An increase in violence prevails and acceptance of a violent culture as the ‘norm.’

Diminishing middle class

There is greater income inequality than there was 10 years ago. In addition, there are more people in the U.S. living below the poverty rate than there were 10 years ago.

‘Going Green’

People are becoming aware of our “global footprint.” In addition to a willingness to recycle, the cost of gasoline has made it necessary to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Architecturally efficient design of buildings is also important and desired.

Implementation of the New Roman Missal

In November of 2011 new words will be used at Mass. This will present a challenge as people will have to change the responses they are used to saying. In addition, the cost of providing new worship aids will be borne by parishes. Questions will be raised as to why this is necessary or important and potentially some will use this as an excuse to leave regular practice of the faith.

War and terrorism

We are still at war.

Strengths

(what do we as a diocese do well?)

Organization

There has been more streamlining among offices in the Pastoral Center and beyond – i.e. Virginia Catholic Conference, Pathways, and a successfully run Diocesan Appeal in 2010. The Diocese has made a concerted effort to improve its administrative structure, requiring job descriptions for Pastoral Center and parish employees, a Handbook for Administrative Procedures and a Pastoral Plan.

Faith Formation

Both at the Diocesan and parish levels, effort has been put forth to provide opportunities for education for adult and youth. Pathways has been streamlined and there is a desire to have trained catechists whether they be paid or volunteers. A number of excellent speakers have come to parishes to provide insight into the Catholic faith and a broader understanding of how our faith works in today’s world.

Inclusion of all People

The Office of Persons with Disabilities has provided outreach and opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in our faith, particularly at the parish level. A concerted effort has been made to make diocesan bodies more ethnically diverse. In addition, recruiting priests to serve in our diocese from other countries has given the Catholic faithful an opportunity to learn about another culture from them as they serve in our parishes.

Diaconate Program

The current Diaconate Program has attracted a large number of men. It provides an example education and formation format for other dioceses to model. The deacon candidates, with their wives, are learning and volunteering in parishes in a variety of ministries increasing the number of people called and trained for ministry in our diocese.

Solidarity with the Poor

The Diocese of Richmond continues to be recognized for its efforts to aid the poor and marginalized in the U.S. and around the world. Parish and Young Adult Programs (through “Alternate Spring Break” trips) continue to recruit volunteers to serve the poor in inner cities, in Appalachia, in Haiti, and elsewhere. Most parishes support local food banks and a variety of other local outreach efforts.

Challenges

How to reach out to ‘fallen-away Catholics’

Statistics across the U.S. indicate only about 30 percent of baptized Catholics practice their faith on a consistent basis, i.e. attend Mass on Sundays. The Diocese of Richmond is no different. We need to find out why people are leaving the flock and welcome them back in a sincere, generous way.

Infrastructure and support of parishes

Are we going to be able to maintain our parish and school physical infrastructure (buildings) as they age? Many parishes are struggling financially due to a variety of circumstances.

Ministering effectively to different types of family structures, cultures, etc.

In the U.S. the media and dominant secular culture have impacted our family structure and lifestyles. How do we adapt to “living in both worlds?” How do we effectively minister and bring the faith to people living in difficult circumstances?

Economic hardship/uncertainty

The unemployment rate has increased dramatically in the last 10 years. Coupled with that is an increase in economic uncertainty. People with jobs are afraid they will lose them. Companies that employed both skilled and unskilled workers are not hiring new workers and some are closing their doors.

Beth Neu, is the director of the diocese's office of Pastoral Planning.Even with an education beyond high school people are having difficulty finding work. People are losing their homes to creditors through mortgage foreclosures. This has multiple impacts on families and the local Church. First the needs are increasing in terms of local social outreach. The demand is much greater in terms of the number of people requesting assistance and it tends to be for a longer period of time.

Second, families are not able to contribute financially to support parishes if they no longer have an income.

Affordability of Catholic schools

Catholic education continues to be desired by many parents, but the cost continues to increase. In order to meet state and federal requirements and compensate teachers fairly, tuition has increased to a point where most middle-income families cannot afford to send their children to Catholic Schools. As the number of children attending Catholic schools decreases it further exacerbates the problem of keeping schools open and affordable. Parishes are finding it difficult to contribute their share of the expense of maintaining Catholic schools as well.

Retention of youth/young adults

While the number of Catholics practicing their faith on a consistent basis is falling as a whole, the most dramatic loss in is in the “Under 30” age group.

Meeting the pastoral and Sacramental needs of minorities (especially Hispanics)

The number of Hispanic parishioners living in the Diocese continues to grow. Many times their needs are not being met due to the lack of trained ministers who can speak their language.

Integrating minority populations into the greater parish community (rather than having two separate communities within the parish) is desired, but not often accomplished.

Caring for an increasing elderly population

Across the U.S. demographics indicate people are living longer. Sometimes they are living longer, but not necessarily living healthier. This presents a host of problems and many parishes have found the best service they can provide to elderly parishioners is elder care or nursing care. The Diocese of Richmond maintains five homes across the diocese for senior citizens.

Decline in the number of clergy and supporting clergy

The number of priests in the Diocese has decreased in the last 10 years significantly and the age of our priests has increased. Without the assistance of international priests to celebrate Mass and sacraments parishes would have had to close or go without weekend liturgy.

Figuring out how to use technology to the benefit of the Church

The use of technology presents both opportunities and challenges. For some people the use of technology has increased communication, especially with people living great distances apart, others find it perpetuates a loss of intimacy and difficulty in relationships due to less face-to-face contact. Also, the use of technology presents genuine challenges in terms of accessibility and clarity.

Resistance to gathering — the Church is no longer the center of peoples’ lives

People meet and communicate in different ways today than they did even 10 years ago. How can we take advantage of the learning opportunities available through technology while still keeping worshipping communities together?

Recruitment, training, and support of lay leadership

There are many people called and willing to serve the Church in a variety of non-ordained roles. Is it reasonable and equitable to expect lay leaders to pay for their own education while those to be ordained are supported by the diocese?

Many lay people need training and parish congregations need to be aware that while some people can volunteer, paid ministers are needed as well.

Any parishioner with questions or wishing to comment on the above findings may send an e-mail to Beth Neu, director of the Office of Pastoral Planning. She can be contacted at: eneu@richmonddiocese.org by June 23. A final document will be sent via e-mail to all parishes in the diocese in July 2011.

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