A new Vatican document on the renewal of parish life comes at a time when parish communities have been changed in ways recently unimaginable, according to a key diocesan leader in regional Victoria.
Sophy Morley, the coordinator for liturgy and pastoral ministry and Plenary coordinator in Sale Diocese, says the Vatican Instruction The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelising Mission of the Church diagnoses a critical shift in recent decades.
The document “highlights the changing nature of parish life from it being no longer ‘the primary gathering place and social centre’ for people as it once was, to a redefinition of parish as one that is not defined by its geographical territory alone”, Mrs Morley said.
“I think that many parishes are still coming to terms with what this means for their life as a community of faith,” she continued.
“Particularly now, as we are living with the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, it has become very apparent that parish life has been changed, possibly for ever. How are we to reimagine a transformed way of Christian living?”
Mrs Morley said COVID-19 provides an opportunity to think deeply about how people within the Church can be “agents of transformation for ourselves and others”.
“There is the challenge, as Pope Francis and the instruction state, not to be self-referential and inward-looking but actually venture forth – beyond the confines of our parish geographical location to others whom we may not have even considered before,” she said.
“The paradox is that unless we actively commit to do this, the mission of the Church will falter and our communities will shrivel and become moribund.
“Secondly, there is the call for a renewed vitality, both in us as people on mission but also within parish structures, casting a critical eye on the reform of structures that may hinder or do little to support the missionary activity of the Church.”
Mrs Morley said programs like Alpha, Rebuilt and Divine Renovation have proven to assist in responding to those challenges.
Daniel Ang, the director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, told The Catholic Weekly that the new Vatican document “underscores any structural renewal within our dioceses must be underpinned and at the service of spiritual renewal, to render our parishes ever more conducive to the encounter with Christ that it serves and makes present”.
Deacon Peter Pellicaan, the director of Evangelisation Brisbane, said the Holy See demonstrates through the document that it “believes that renewal will not come from the abandoning of existing structures but rather from the personal encounter with Jesus that transforms the lives of the faithful and imbues them with faith, hope and love”.
“It is this encounter that makes the Church look, feel and sound more like Jesus – and that’s a Church that is attractive, life-giving and can’t help but be relevant,” Deacon Pellicaan told The Catholic Leader.