Today’s culture is largely anti-Christian, individualistic and secular
Catholic Church requires a change of mentality to address new realities
Pope Francis urges us to be missionary disciples and invites ‘all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ’. Photograph: Fabio Falcioni/EPA
I am very conscious of change and of the history of the Catholic Church. The church is always changing. In 1834 Blessed John Henry Newman in Via Media wrote: “The whole course of Christianity from the first ... is but one series of troubles and disorders… The church is ever ailing ... Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of truth dim, its adherents scattered.”
A Brazilian fisherman, when asked why Jesus choose mostly fishermen as apostles, said: “People who travel on the land build roads, and they continue to use these roads over and over again. But a fisherman goes searching for the fish wherever they are. And so he chooses a different path each day. For it happens that yesterday’s route doesn’t lead to the fish of today.”
There is no point travelling the old roads. People are in a different place now. They don’t come to us much; we have to go to them. This is the big change. We have been trying in the diocese for the past year and more to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us. I believe this plan is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says in the Gospel of John: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8)
What does the Lord mean by the phrase “bear fruit”? In his last recorded words on Earth Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Bearing fruit is essentially this: making disciples.
In his marvellous letter on evangelisation, Evangelii Gaudium (EG), Pope Francis urges us to be missionary disciples. This new diocesan plan requires a change of mentality, moving from maintenance to mission.
We recognise the forces that operate against the truth about human life, marriage and the family
The church has changed. Culture has changed. It is not neutral but largely anti-Christian, individualistic and secular, as Pope Francis says in EG.
While we acknowledge the wonderful things that surround us each day, we also recognise the forces that operate against the truth about human life, marriage and the family – their origin, sanctity and ultimate end.
Going out to make disciples cannot happen unless there is renewal within. Pope Francis invites “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ”, (Evangelii Gaudium 3).
We note the urgency in the pope’s plea to fall in love again with Jesus Christ. No one will want to be part of a community that is spiritually dead.
The plan is a five-year one with four themes identified to realise this vision. These are:
1. Becoming an evangelising church
2. Creating communities of faith characterised by hospitality, belonging and acceptance
3. Enhancing the quality of our liturgical celebrations and providing opportunities for spiritual growth
4. Remodelling leadership and governance structures to serve the mission of evangelising and transforming the world.
Core objectives and actions are outlined under each theme, and with a definite timeframe so that results can be measured in so far as possible.
In order to better manage this evangelical approach, we will need greater emphasis on team ministry in new pastoral units across the diocese, where small groups of parishes, their clergy and trained laity, will work in teams to go out and bear fruit along with the faithful.
A greater emphasis on adult faith formation is necessary and the Alpha programme is being rolled out to rekindle faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Further adult faith formation programmes will build on this.
All these and more are needed to bring about the changes necessary to become a missionary church community.
I entrust this new diocesan pastoral plan entirely to the care of Our Mother Mary around whom the apostles prayed on the first Pentecost day, conscious that we are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit who goes before us, opening hearts and minds.
Most Rev Phonsie Cullinan is Catholic Bishop of Waterford and Lismore