In September 2004, I wrote to you about our Diocesan Pastoral Plan and the work that needed to be done on it by our parishes and diocesan offices and ministries. Now, several months later, it is gratifying to see it take shape and come to life. An enormous amount of work was required to complete this stage of the project. Approximately seventy-six percent of our parishes and all of our diocesan offices and ministries have developed their objectives and implementation steps. I have been told that this work already amounts to about two thousand pages!
A quick glance at our diocesan web site shows the wide variety of objectives that our parishes will be working on for the next five years. They are different ways of making concrete the same six goals that have been adopted by the whole diocese. Our Pastoral Plan incorporates them all into the mission of our diocesan Church. In other words, it helps us look beyond our individual parishes and appreciate that we are part of something bigger. The Diocesan Pastoral Plan is the whole diocese working for the Kingdom of God.
We now begin the final stage, namely, the implementation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan C doing what we said we would.
The purpose of this letter
Because our Pastoral Plan will play such a central role for us over the next five years, I would like to share with you some thoughts about it. This letter will touch on a number of topics, but I want to begin by making two points. First, we need to pray for the success of our Pastoral Plan. Jesus assures us that if we unite together in prayer, he will be with us. Without prayer, the Diocesan Pastoral Plan ceases to be the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. Second, I would like to invite every member of our diocese to be actively involved in its implementation.
Approximately twenty-five of our parishes have not completed the work of developing their objectives and implementation steps. Most of these are in the process of developing them, but a few have not started yet. If your parish falls within this category, this letter is intended to offer to you a word of encouragement. I suggest you speak to other parishes about their experiences. Seek out any help you may need to engage in and complete this work. Our episcopal vicars and regional coordinators are available to help you.
This letter addresses some basic questions: Why do we have a Pastoral Plan? How does it benefit our diocese? Before addressing these questions, however, it will be helpful to make a few remarks about the context.
The present-day context
We are living in a time of rapid social change which is having a profound effect on our lives and consequently on our Church. We all benefit from the tremendous advances that have been made in technology, medicine and communication. Other social realities, however, have had a negative impact on our lives, for example, consumerism, individualism, the destruction of the unborn, and the growing gap between rich and poor.
The pressures of modern society have caused some of our contemporaries to turn away from God and become materialistic and self-centred. Others, however, remain committed to living morally upright lives and, even though they shun organized religion, are searching for spiritual values. Many are choosing to practice their Catholic faith and are sincerely trying to live their lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
For the past couple of years, I have been visiting the parishes of our diocese and have listened to our people speak of their hopes and concerns. I know that a lot of Catholics are struggling with the recent priest scandals and with parish clustering and closures. Nevertheless, they have a strong faith in God that sustains them in these difficult times. Many continue to be actively involved in their parishes. They want to deepen their prayer and to learn more about their faith.
I am always impressed by the wonderful things that are happening in our parishes and commend our priests and pastoral teams for the generous service and leadership they are giving our people. One of our parishes has taken on a project to assist a town in Mexico; every year a group of parishioners C last year the pastor accompanied them C go to this town to build houses for the poor. Another of our parishes supports members of their youth group who go to Jamaica to run a summer camp for children.
A number of our people have spoken to me about the difficulties they encounter living their faith in a society that is becoming more and more secular. They turn to their Church for direction and practical guidance, as they seek to apply Gospel values to their lives. We have to make sure that we are not failing the people who come to us. Their experience of Church must be relevant to their everyday lives.
How does a pastoral plan help in these circumstances?
Our deceased Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, was keenly aware of the challenges that we face in living our faith today. In his Apostolic Letter, At the Beginning of the New Millennium, he stressed that the Church needs to plan carefully, so that it can be effective in fulfilling its mission of living the gospel of Jesus Christ in our world today. Therefore, he instructed every diocese to develop a detailed pastoral plan.
The concept of “pastoral planning” is new to most of us. We know, however, that when there is something important that a family wants to achieve, the members need to plan C to strategize. “Flying by the seat of our pants and hoping for the best” is not a very good strategy. A pastoral plan, as the pope emphasized, is necessary if our diocese is to be effective in its mission.
Those who come to our parishes live in a secular, fragmented society. They are searching for Christ, for the support of a faith community, for good liturgies and good homilies which will help them grow in holiness and give practical help in applying Jesus’ message to their lives. We cannot allow our parishes to be irrelevant to their spiritual quest. We need to help them discover in their everyday lives the Good News that God loves us, is always ready to forgive our failures, and wants to share our joys and sorrows, our struggles and pains.
This is the purpose of our Pastoral Plan. Its six goals hold before us: (1) the call to personal holiness; (2) proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the faith in a way that is connected to people’s life experience; (3) ministering with justice and compassion to those in need; (4) having meaningful liturgies in our parishes; (5) the ongoing formation of laity, religious and ordained; (6) governance practices which meet people’s needs, are mission-centred, ensure the participation of all in decision-making, uphold Gospel stewardship and are accountable and transparent. These goals help us focus on the essential elements of our mission, namely, to allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to take root in the everyday life of our families and our parishes, and to bring this good news to others.
Sharing responsibility for our Pastoral Plan
Baptism bestows a dignity on us. In this sacrament, Jesus anoints us with the power of his Spirit, fills us with spiritual gifts and incorporates us into his body, the Church. This dignity implies that each of us is to take our rightful place within the Church. It also carries with it certain responsibilities. The Church becomes “our Church”, the parish becomes “our parish”. Each of us is responsible for it. Each of us is to be generous in offering our gifts, our time and our talents for the service of the Church.
It is especially important, therefore, for pastors and pastoral teams to give leadership by inviting the whole parish to participate in the Pastoral Plan. Some parishioners have already been involved and are enthusiastic about it. We need to encourage others to get involved.
It may be helpful for your parish to set up an advisory group to help with the ongoing implementation. Find out the gifts and interests of your parishioners. In my visits to parishes, I have met people with tremendous talents and a wealth of experience. Some have told me that they are willing to serve. We need to approach them in person and then empower them to use their gifts and talents.
The challenge before us C implementing our Pastoral Plan
Experience shows us that the big challenge now is implementing our Pastoral Plan C doing what we said we would. There is an excitement about meeting with others, visioning and designing new projects. The hard part is having the commitment and perseverance to follow through on our plans.
In developing our Pastoral Plan, many of our parishes have experienced a new impetus in what it means to be “Church”. The challenge is not to let this impetus die out. Parishes need to be creative in keeping the Pastoral Plan at the forefront.
I know I will have to develop a new habit C the habit of thinking through the lens of the Pastoral Plan. We all need to develop that habit. As new requests and possibilities are considered by your parish, the Pastoral Plan can help you assess whether they fit in with your mission, whether there are adequate resources, whether the timing is right. The Pastoral Plan, then, is not another program that we are taking on but a way of operating.
The Pastoral Plan is not a finished product. Implementation involves continually evaluating how well we are responding to the needs of our people and then making necessary adaptations. For example, now that the majority of parishes have entered their objectives on our web site, the diocesan offices and ministries are in the process of reviewing them to determine common themes. They will then adapt their priorities so as to better serve our parishes.
Shared responsibility for our Pastoral Plan involves being accountable to one another. I suspect that this is an area which will require some learning on our part. We will need to develop mechanisms to promote accountability. The whole purpose of pastoral planning is to be more focused on our mission C living the Gospel in our world today. The Gospel, then, needs to inform these mechanisms.
Year of the Eucharist
In October 2004, our then Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, dedicated the entire year to follow to the Eucharist. We welcomed this announcement, especially as we began the implementation of our Pastoral Plan. In his Apostolic Letter to introduce the year, the Holy Father pointed out that the Eucharist provides the strength for our mission and is also its plan. To fulfill our mission of living the Gospel in our world today, we must, he said, assimilate “the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires, the resolutions to which it gives rise” (Stay with us Lord, n. 25).
This special year is a marvelous opportunity to deepen our appreciation of the Eucharist, the incomparable treasure that Christ has entrusted to his Church. It is lively and meaningful celebrations of the Eucharist in each of our parishes that will be the foundation for implementing our Pastoral Plan.
I believe the Pastoral Plan has a lot to offer us. This would not be the case, however, were it not for the dedication and hard work of those who were involved in developing it, both in our parishes and in our diocesan offices and ministries. I would like to express my thanks to all of them for the superb job they have done. Father Paul Baillargeon and the Pastoral Plan Resource Team deserve our special thanks for managing the process and for agreeing to continue in this role. I would also like to express my gratitude to Mr. Joseph Edward, Mrs. Connie Côté and the rest of the staff of our diocesan Information Systems Services. The new web site which they created is proving to be a wonderful tool to promote and manage our Pastoral Plan and to communicate with one another about it.
In this Year of the Eucharist, I ask all members of our diocese to join in prayer for our Pastoral Plan. May it bring us new hope and enthusiasm for our mission of living the Gospel in our world today.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Ronald Fabbro, C.S.B.
Bishop of London