OTTAWA (CCN) — The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrine commission has released a document outlining the missionary role of parishes.
Entitled the Missionary Dynamic of the Parish Today, the 11-page booklet stresses the role of all Catholics in the new evangelization, noting that “it is in the parish that most Canadians experience the Catholic Church.”
The document deals directly with the challenges facing parish life, whether they are changing demographics, cultural changes leading to “an erosion of shared values.”
“There is no doubt that Christians today find it difficult to live by the words of the Gospel and to accept the person of Christ and his life-giving message,” it says. “We live in an era and culture which are increasingly secularized.”
This secularization includes the “denial of any mention of God; the false opposition of faith and reason; and the loss of a transcendent view of the human person and his or her destiny,” the document says. This leads to moral relativism, self-centredness and “a consumer mentality and a growing spiritual malaise.”
Christianity is being increasing marginalized and this affects parishes, it says. This means parishes “are exploring new ways of Christian living that will require sacrifice, prayer, discernment and the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit whom Christ promised to his church.”
People are no longer rooted in their communities, affecting both mass attendance and vocations, the document says. The breakdown in community and family life and the loss of publicly funded Catholic education in some provinces put strains on priestly ministry.
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “Faith must be lived together and the parish is the place in which we learn to live our faith as part of the ‘us’ of the church,” the document says parishes are “called to be missionary — not necessarily to foreign countries — but primarily to those around them.”
“This is the new evangelization: our primary evangelizing mission today is not abroad, but within our own cities and communities,” it says.
The document suggests three areas parishes can focus on to transform not only individuals but families and communities.
Parishes must be:
— “Missionary: directed toward non-believers and those who have distanced themselves from the faith”;
— “Catechetical: offered to those who have embraced the Gospel and for those who need to complete or strengthen their initiation”;
— “Pastoral: directed toward the Christian faithful growing in faith in the heart of the Christian community.”
The document encourages parishes to “bear witness to people outside of their parish community,” and involve themselves in projects that reach out to the poor or defend the right to life.
It stresses the importance of ongoing faith formation as a “community of disciples.”
“When parishes recognize their constant need for growing in faith, and embrace opportunities for formation and learning, they can also become more open to new and creative ways of carrying out this mission,” it says.
The CCCB document urges parishes to undertake pastoral activities promoting hospitality to make people feel welcomed. It also suggests community building projects that call upon people to develop their leadership skills and investment in the life of the parish.
“Without prayer, no parish community can succeed in its mission,” the document concludes, noting a community’s prayer is more important than its programs and methods.
“The mission of the parish today is challenging indeed,” it says. “Yet as Christians, we possess the Good News that our world needs, and is in fact longing for.”
The document can be accessed at the CCCB’s website cccb.ca