On Thursday May 18th 2017, members of the clergy and laity from around the Diocese gathered at the San Antonio Social hall for a day oriented on the Diocesan Pastoral Planning. As mentioned in past articles, Pastoral Planning concerns the future of a local church. Prayer is a vital part of this process and so the day began with morning prayer led by Bishop Ryan Jimenez in the beautifully renovated San Antonio Church. Afterwards, participants listened to Dr. Rita Sablan, chair of the Committee of Pastoral Planning, who explained the different stages of pastoral planning. Included in her presentation was the SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) taken from the listening sessions Bishop Ryan did with parishes at the start of his episcopate. She concluded by stating that the focus of the day was to think about vision and mission statements for the pastoral plan. A vision statement explains “who we want to be” in the near future. Where are we heading as a Diocese? Mission statements describe the core of our church’s purpose in the CNMI. In order to assist with this task, Fr. Fran Hezel S.J. and Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes from Guam were invited to speak to the group.
“what worked out well for the church in the past might not work well today” and “it is much harder to be a good Catholic nowadays than before”.
Archbishop Byrnes opened his talk by emphasizing the Church’s need for pastoral conversion. He stressed that today’s culture is much different than the past. He mentioned “what worked out well for the church in the past might not work well today” and “it is much harder to be a good Catholic nowadays than before”. The Church must find new ways to reach out to the faithful and those in need. He shared that we tend to be a church that waits for the sheep to approach the shepherds. Instead, we must be shepherds who go out to seek the flock. He reflected on Luke 5, describing the call of Peter. The gospel describes Jesus as a God who invites himself into Peter’s boat. They start in the shallow water and proceed out into the deep to catch an amazing number of fish. In the same way, the church must find ways to proclaim Christ as a personal God who asks to be part of our lives. Jesus calls people to join Him in mission and not just be bystanders. In our pastoral approach, we must meet people where they are and accompany them from the shallow water and gradually bring them out to the deep. Conversion to Christ is an on-going process.
Following Archbishop Byrnes’ talk, Fr. Fran gave three different presentations on the mission of the church. The first talk focused on the General Mission of the Church. Scripture tells us that God established a sacred covenant with the Church and entrusted her a mission. Traditionally, this mission consisted of kerygma, proclaiming doctrine, koinonia or Communion of members, and finally diakonia or service. Fr. Hezel’s second presentation was on the Mission of the Church to believers. Within the church, the faithful must continue to be nourished, grow, and bear fruit in the community. Fr. Fran emphasized that although many may associate themselves as Catholics, many of them do not participate in the church’s life. No matter what someone’s vocation may be, everyone in the church has a responsibility in this task. Participants were asked, “How well does the ordinary parish life feed the spiritual hunger of the people? Which believing community group in our diocese needs the most attention? Lastly, Fr. Hezel presented on the Mission of Church ad extra. He shared that the church’s mission does not only focus on her members, but also to those outside the believing community. As a church, we are charged with serving all peoples, regardless of their religious background, culture, age, etc… The question Fr. Hezel presented to the group was, “How much of our church’s energy and time is spent on evangelization?” As Catholics, how can we most effectively say “God loves you” to those who may not believe in God? After each presentation, participants were asked to get in groups to share their insights on these matters regarding the mission of our local church.
The overall input and evaluation from this forum will be presented to Bishop Ryan Jimenez and the Committee for Pastoral Planning. It will continue to move forward with serious prayer, discernment, and input from clergy and laity alike. Throughout the day, Bishop Ryan thanked everyone for their time, support, and participation for this Diocesan task. He shared that “everyone is involved” in this important process which aims for growth and future health of our local church.