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A few weeks ago Cardinal Seán and his cabinet participated in a two day retreat to consider a long range strategic vision and plan for the Archdiocese of Boston. The cardinal has called us to develop a culture of planning in the archdiocese, understanding and underscoring the challenges and opportunities we share as a faith community of 291 parishes across 144 cities and towns. Our hope and prayer is that through this work, and building on the many achievements that we have realized as a local Church following some tumultuous years, we will strengthen the archdiocese for future generations of Catholics.
The goal of the retreat was for cabinet members to come together in prayer and reflection and to consider what has changed and what is changing in the archdiocese. In addition, we discussed the archdiocese’s ability to meet these changes and their challenges. We began a conversation regarding the direction for archdiocesan ministry over the next five years. Because we know action and not just words are essential to this effort, we drafted priorities and action steps that we believe will keep us on track and which will help us achieve our goals and objectives.
As this process develops, in the months ahead, the cabinet will be calling on many people in our parishes and ministries to assist us in finalizing and articulating these priorities. This is about painting a broad picture with a defined roadmap by which we will travel as a faith community committed to building up Christ’s Church. As with all plans, we look to the future realizing we are in the Lord’s hands and with the deepest desire and commitment to follow his way.
As part of the retreat experience, the cabinet articulated some key aspects of our life together in the archdiocese. Here are some of our reflections:
The archdiocese has experienced three major crises in recent years (i.e., the sex abuse scandal, reconfiguration and finances).
The focus of our Central Ministries has been on recovery and rebuilding trust, while also focusing on financial recovery and its impact on our mission.
The archdiocese is impacted by social changes, such as: a growing segment of secular culture that is more individualistic, independent, and often anti-religious, many changes in how people receive, process and share information, and a decline in the centrality of family life in our culture. We are also impacted by significant trends within our Church such as a troubling decline in sacramental participation and the aging of our most active demographic group.
There are also many pastoral opportunities emerging such as the growth in immigrant communities, young professionals and many other segments of our population.
There was agreement that our focus must remain on, and be devoted to, clear and compelling pastoral priorities. We must be a Church which embraces and lives the call to evangelization.
We have come a long way under Cardinal Seán’s leadership. Still, we have much to do in order to continue to repair and heal our local Church and to refocus our efforts on the central aspects of our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ. The work of people across the archdiocese, our priests, deacons, religious and laity, has been essential in helping us to build up the archdiocese. Great progress is underway. For instance, where once we were in economic freefall, we now have a diocese committed to balancing its budget and working within its means. While the pain of reconfiguration and parish closings has been difficult for many, we are seeing inspiring works of mercy and fulfillment in parishes and communities across the archdiocese. You need only look at the wonderful work of Father Paul Ring and the parishioners of the newly formed parish of Our Lady of Grace in Groton and Pepperell which is now carrying on the mission of the former parishes of Sacred Heart-St. James and St. Joseph to realize the magnitude of possibilities we share as a Catholic community. In light of the enormous pain and suffering of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, our commitment to healing and a sincere desire to seek forgiveness is essential as we continue to provide for the pastoral care of survivors and their families. Our life as a community is marked by glorious, sorrowful, joyous and luminous mysteries.
Given all that we have been through as a Church and all the possibilities that lay before us, we articulated an initial draft of pastoral priorities for the next five years. They are:
Growing the Church through evangelization. Empowering and calling all Catholics in the archdiocese to become active, engaged and committed evangelizers of the faith. Welcoming home Catholics who no longer attend Mass frequently and increasing participation, passion and engagement in the fullness of Catholic teaching and life across the archdiocese.
Strengthening our parishes as the primary communities of faith. Devoting significant resources to helping all our parishes be engaging, welcoming, inviting, outreaching and thriving centers of discipleship and communities of love. Promoting multi-parish planning efforts to bring the Good News of our faith in word and deed to the communities of the archdiocese in ways that are most effective.
Developing excellence in faith formation for Catholics of all ages. Developing excellence in our Catholic schools, religious education programs, adult faith formation programs and lay leadership programs so that all generations of Catholics are knowledgeable and passionate about expressing their Catholic faith in today’s world. Encouraging and equipping parents and grandparents to be excellent teachers of our faith to their children and grandchildren.
Re-energizing priestly ministry. Honoring the dedicated service of the priests of our archdiocese and acknowledging the challenges and gifts of serving as a priest today. Rebalancing priestly work and expectations so that priests can continue to excel in the priestly ministries of teaching, sanctifying and governing. Urging priests to seek renewal through retreats and ongoing formation. Solidifying priest pension and healthcare funds so that our priests have confidence that they will be cared for and cherished as they become senior priests of the archdiocese.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will be sharpening our focus and seeking your input. I welcome any feedback on these pastoral priorities. I use the words “initial” and “draft” because we realize that the pastoral priorities of the archdiocese must be a combination of the vision of our bishop and the lived experience of Catholics throughout the archdiocese. This is an important moment in our life together. We need your help and your commitment.
The cardinal has led us through some very difficult times. We are blessed by his leadership as our shepherd and pastor. Through the grace of God, together we are rebuilding his Church and working toward a spiritual renewal that will sustain future generations of Catholics. We are all on a blessed journey that is both challenging and exciting. Thank you for your support and involvement in our efforts to assist Cardinal Seán in leading our Church forward and in following the way of the Lord.
Father Richard M. Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.