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Priests discuss pastoral planning at convocation

Bishop Richard Malone delivers his keynote address at the annual Priests Convocation June 7. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

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WALTHAM -- More than 250 priests of the Archdiocese of Boston discussed the role of pastoral planning in the New Evangelization at the 2012 Annual Priest Convocation held at the Waltham Westin Hotel June 7.

Speakers focused talks and discussions on the need for change as the archdiocese and the Church move forward in ministry.

The former Bishop of Portland, Maine, Bishop Richard J. Malone welcomed the opportunity to open the convocation for the Boston presbyterate before he heads to his new assignment as Bishop of Buffalo. The Salem native served alongside many of the men at the convocation, as a priest for 28 years and as an auxiliary bishop of Boston for four years.

Under Bishop Malone's leadership, the Portland Diocese undertook a restructuring strategy to preserve its ministries. He stressed the need for positive, flexible and hopeful attitudes amongst priests as Boston moves to address its own pastoral needs.

"I do want to affirm how crucial your role is. Nothing good will come of this project without the highest quality of pastoral leadership offered by each one of you," he told the priests.

Bishop Malone spoke about how the thrust for evangelization must direct pastoral planning.

"It is so important to have the lamp of the New Evangelization shining brightly on all the aspects of this pastoral planning process," he said.

"May your work together going forward, guided by the Holy Spirit, be for you and all you serve even with the challenges and all of that what John Paul II, in 'Novo Millennio Ineunte,' called an exciting work of pastoral revitalization. Think of that, pastoral revitalization, our work involving all of us," the bishop said.

Following Bishop Malone's remarks, Msgr. William P. Fay, Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission (APPC) co-chair and pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton, began with a nod to Bishop Malone's comments.

"What he had to say, and bring to us today, very much connects with what we are doing here. Again, it is important for us to begin remembering that this is all at the service of evangelization," he said.

Msgr. Fay addressed the response to the pastoral planning proposal first outlined at a December 2011 meeting with the Boston presbyterate.

He focused on APPC consultations held from December 2011 through March 2012 throughout the archdiocese for priests, church staff and volunteers.

He reminded the priests of the APPC plan to strengthen parishes, presented findings from consultations run by the commission throughout the archdiocese in recent months, and discussed points the plan would continue addressing in the future.

He recapped the five mission initiatives proposed in the document "Disciples in Mission" published in 2011 that he said continue to guide the APPC.

The document proposed that any pastoral planning for the archdiocese aims to welcome Catholics to a deeper conversion to Christ, strengthen parishes, grow the Church through evangelization, strengthen and bring to excellence faith formation for Catholics of all ages, and reenergize pastoral leadership.

"We moved immediately as a commission to the issue of the strengthening of the parishes, and we did that because it was obvious to us that this became the foundation for all the other initiatives. If you are going to welcome people back to the life of the Church and ask them to commit themselves more fully to conversion, the place to which they are going to be welcomed is the parish," Msgr. Fay said.

Under the proposed plan, the archdiocese's 288 parishes would be paired into 127 groups, most consisting of two or three parishes, which would be served by a Pastoral Service Team or PST, led by the pastor and "consisting of priests, deacons, lay ecclesial ministers, finance councils and parish councils that serve multiple parishes," according to the APPC.

He said the APPC moved forward in suggesting grouping parishes with four things in mind: He said the plan would have to explore logical reasons beyond proximity to one another for suggesting collaboration between parishes, establish implementation through a reasonable timeline, ensure adequate numbers of pastoral staff to effectively support pastors, and facilitate training to promote effective evangelization.

"We took the 288 parishes and we proposed that there be 127 of these so-called pastoral collaboratives," he said.

He also said the APPC is working with some parishes and pastors on suggestions regarding which churches would work best together in collaborating groups. He said the final list of proposed "collaboratives" has not yet been finalized or submitted to the cardinal.

Next, he detailed nine key findings of the commission over the course of six months of consultations, which he said involved 5,000 people and generated 8,000 pages of feedback for the commission. The results of the consultation are available at www.planning2012.com.

-- He said the commission found that they had broad based support for the idea of moving toward the multiple parish collaboration.

"When we asked people if this was right, or near to right direction, 66 percent indicated to us, 'Yes, we think so,'" he said.

He also said 84 percent of respondents were against closing parishes as a way to move forward.

"So, what are we hearing?" he said in a report published on the archdiocese's pastoral planning website, "What we are doing now is not okay. Closing parishes is not okay. The pastoral team model for a slow and organic move to multiple parish pastoring is okay, although it continues to need refinement."

-- The commission found broad support for Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley's continued focus on evangelization as a long-term goal for the archdiocese.

However, he also said, "we learned that people do not see clearly the connection between the pastoral team model and the improvement of evangelization."

"This is a serious concern for us. Without evangelization, this is just restructuring. So, what's the connection? An early answer to that question might be that the parish is the heart of evangelization. The very act of forming a team, training a team, writing a local pastoral plan, and implementing that plan, will in itself help to orient the parishes to evangelization," he said in the report.

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