Bathurst, February 22nd, 2016
Dear faithful ones,
Last year, I sent you a pastoral letter on the theme: “For Christian Communities faithful to Christ and ever more vibrant.” This letter was a source of healing and reflection for many of you. And for that I rejoice. The letter enabled us to take a new look at ourselves and to reflect once again on our pastoral experience so as to better serve the Lord.
The Church has received a mission from Christ, that of announcing the Good News to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that he has commanded us (Matthew 28: 19-20A). This mission of the Church holds for yesterday, for today, and, of course, for tomorrow. The mission will be always the same; but, the means for carrying it out will change according to the era. The Church is first and foremost a people, the People of God in movement toward the Father, which has an organization or a structure which is by no means frozen in time.
Our parishes are important because they are above all the sign of the presence and of the action of the risen Lord who builds in our midst communities of faith in brotherly love. Our predecessors gave our Church a parochial structure that has served us well until quite recently. But as in all the West, our world has changed rapidly and is currently going through a critical period of profound upheavals. The situation into which our current parishes were born is no longer our situation today.
As early as several years ago, we felt that our parochial structure should be modified. It was no longer appropriate for the parishes to live side by side like so many islands. the spirit of the bell tower and of turning in upon ourselves impaired the mission and should have made way for a wider communion of the communities with each other. It was necessary for the parishes to show more solidarity, collaboration, and unity.
Just as each Christian cannot be the Church by himself but only with others, it goes without saying that the parishes cannot exist alone. Thus the diocesan authorities made the wise decision, more than 10 years ago, to proceed with a change of structure at the parish level with the formation of pastoral units grouping together a certain number of parishes.
As the years go by, the parishes of a single unit have gotten to know each other, to pray and work together to announce the Good News. A spirit of communion has been established and a beautiful solidarity has been experienced. Still more recently, the identification of certain places of worship as being principal, as well as the creation of central secretarial offices, has enabled the pastoral units to appear as one communion and not as a mere sum of communities, which is, in and of itself, a beautiful evangelical witness.
Our world has continued to evolve and we now see that the human resources (priests, monks, nuns, and volunteers) as well as the financial resources are dwindling more and more. This has the effect, now and in the foreseeable future, of hindering the majority of the parishes from offering, independently and jointly, all that is necessary for Christian life. We have already seen that it is now, together within the units and no longer individually, that the parishes have succeeded in fulfilling the role that a parish assumed individually in times past. The pastoral units have thus become, in fact, “Communities of communities,” parishes, a reality that had already been anticipated by the last two popes (Jean-Paul II and Benedict XVI) and that our current pope, Francis, also recognizes.
That is why our Church is now making this new reality official by creating new parishes from existing pastoral units. This change will make it possible for our local Christian communities to further join their forces so as to better deploy the four directions or dimensions of our common mission, which are: the education of the faith (the announcement of the Word of God, and the catechism), the celebration of the faith (the sacraments, the liturgy, the prayers), the brotherhood (solidarity, communion, financing), and engagement (presence in the world, in particular among the youth, the sick, the poor, the wounded, the searchers after God).
The local Christian communities will be the communities that were formerly parochial. But to these could be added diverse associative communities such as seniors’ residences, religious communities, prayer movements, Christian training centers, or sanctuaries. The parish will thus become once again a “Community of communities.”
The local communities could, in the future, count on people coming from their midst who will be mandated by the bishop. These individuals, close to the people and in cooperation with their priest, will constitute a core of pastoral leadership within each one of the communities so as to watch over their vitality and their development.
A parish Council for the economic affairs of the parish will also be established to watch over the good financial health of the parish as a whole. Presided over by the priest, it will be composed of delegates from the local management councils so as to enable better circulation of information and better collaboration of the councils among themselves and with their priest.
Communion and solidarity will always be in the foreground: the poorest communities may count on the collaboration, the support, and the encouragement of the strongest. The weaknesses of some will thus be compensated for by the strength of the others. The occasional and timely collaborations that the parishes offer each other will become from now on a durable and structural collaboration among Christian communities so as to not only do better with regard to the future, but, above all, to enable each one of them to remain vibrant.
This reform or modification of the current structures is part of a permanent pastoral conversion, a conversion that is always asked of us so as to better fulfill the mission of Christ. Pope Francis encourages us to do so in his latest encyclical by asking the entire Church to “implement the means necessary to make progress on the road of a pastoral and missionary conversion, which cannot leave things as they are” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2013 n. 25). And as the Second Vatican Council mentioned, ecclesial conversion is an opening to a permanent reform of oneself in order to remain forever faithful to Christ and to the mission which he entrusted us with. (Conc. Oecum. Vat. II, Décret Unitatis redintegratio, n. 6)
May we have confidence in the future with Mary our Mother and in the assistance of the Lord. We are His Church and He is “with us always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 20)
Fraternally in Jesus Christ
+ Daniel Jodoin
Bishop of Bathurst