Priests Convocation covers new evangelization, pastoral plan

RANDOLPH -- The assembled presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Boston heard and discussed perspective from Rome on the new evangelization and locally from pastors at collaborative parishes, June 6, at Lantana's in Randolph.

Almost 300 hundred priests of the archdiocese gathered for the 2013 Presbyteral Convocation centered on the new evangelization.

The day-long event presented the priests with talks from president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization Archbishop Rino Fisichella, a panel discussion featuring priests assigned to parishes participating in the first phase of the archdiocese's new pastoral plan, a chance to share opinions with the archdiocese, and remarks from Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

Following an opening luncheon, the presbyterate heard a first keynote address from Archbishop Fisichella, offering a broad perspective on the new evangelization and what it means for Christians in the West.

He said the work of the new evangelization must flow from the identity of authentic faith, being part of the work, rather than just doing it.

"If we want to do something for the new evangelization, it is necessary in the first place that we apply ourselves to achieve an understanding of our actions, in order to verify if they are coherent with our being believers," he said.

Archbishop Fisichella focused on the message of the new evangelization as the work of the apostles and Christ extended into the modern times, and focused on the importance of reaching out directly from one person to another.

He said though the context has changed, the content of the message stays the same.

"There is not another content for our evangelization. The content is still the same, and this is the risen Jesus, the resurrection," he said.

After his talk, the archbishop joined a panel discussion on phase one of the Archdiocese of Boston's pastoral plan and the new evangelization with Msgr. William P. Fay, pastor at St. Lucy and St. Monica in Methuen; Father Paul E. Ritt, pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Maria Goretti in Lynnfield; and Father Francis E. Sullivan, parochial vicar at St. James, St. John, Immaculate Conception and St. Anne in Salem.

Collaborative parish priests in the panel gave first hand perspective on the first phase of the plan, "Disciples in Mission: A Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Boston."

Msgr. Fay stressed the importance of "listening to folks" and said some of his experiences since becoming pastor at the parishes collaborating in Methuen happened in an organic way.

"I found myself in a situation where a meeting started and we really didn't plan to have a meeting," Msgr. Fay said.

He said a group of people had come together in the rectory of one of the churches, when questions came up regarding where the process of pastoral planning is leading the parish.

"One thing that I said was, we really need to take who we are and what God is making of us very serious, because if we don't, we are going to find ourselves -- in a number of years -- in exactly the same situation we are in now, which is clearly a situation that people aren't happy with. We look like a Church that is tired, and we need to look like a Church that has a lot of youthfulness to it and a lot of excitement," Msgr. Fay said.

He also identified the practice of inviting men to vocation directly as an important in-parish strategy for the new evangelization.

"I don't know why it is that we walked away from the way that the Lord got vocations, he looked at people and said to them 'I need you,' and people -- as the Scriptures tell us -- got up immediately and followed him," Msgr. Fay said.

In the question and answer section of the panel one priest raised an issue related to the celebration of Mass. At a break, he explained his question in an interview.

"It wasn't just a question, it was sort of a statement of my opinion. My question is: What are we welcoming people back to? We have Eucharist. We are the only Church that has the body and blood of Christ, that we really believe is the body and blood of Christ, and the product we give is so wonderful, why do we sometimes surround it poorly?" asked Father Jack Schatzel, a retired priest serving at St. Joseph's in Hanson and St. Christine's in Marshfield.

He said the Mass must emphasize people coming together in the spirit of openly expressing a desire to worship, like the original Christian communities.

"We should come and enjoy one-another's company and want to worship together. We are saved together, we worship together, we even go up to communion together, and sometimes we're there just as individuals waiting for this to be over," he said.

Later in the afternoon, Archbishop Fisichella gave his second keynote on the status of the new evangelization in the Western World.

He quoted Pope Francis, who said recently that people want to hear the Gospel preached with unction in a way that pertains to their lives.

"The future therefore, my dear friends, depends on our style of life. With it, the newness of Christian faith and its possibility of victory are perceived and measured," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley gave remarks on the significance of the learning opportunity, and the opportunity to gather as priests, before closing the convocation in prayer. He said in the context of the new evangelization priests should have priestly support from each other and talk about Christ rather than sports, books or movies.

"I am always struck by the passage in St. Luke's Gospel, the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They are talking about Christ, and Christ draws near. If they were talking about Pontius Pilate, I don't know that Jesus would have walked up and started talking to them," Cardinal O'Malley said.

One of the archdiocese's newly priests said the experience of joining with his brother priests for convocation gave him a feeling of inspiration.

"The words of His Eminence Cardinal O'Malley are always very inspiring. I think events like these are very important for everybody to get together in the diocese, to become that one mind and heart which we need as the shepherds of God's flock. The new evangelization is now, and so, if everybody is on the same page that is how it is going to need to work," said Father Christopher W. Wallace.

Father Joseph M. Rossi, pastor at St. Jerome and Immaculate Conception in Weymouth, said the focus being part of the work rather than a functionary and the focus on personal interactions stood out for him as values from the convocation that will help him in his ministry at his collaborative parishes.

"I liked the focus in the archbishop's talk relative to not just doing, but being, being who you are, being the best possible person that you are, especially as regards to one-on-ones that will bring this new evangelization to life -- the one-on-one contact with people, the grassroots, rolling up your sleeves and just making a difference in their life," Father Rossi said.