Q: Archbishop J, what has happened to the Parish Consultation you began?
First, I would like to thank all the priests, religious and laity who participated in the Parish Consultation. A great effort was made by many that is to be celebrated. We received responses from 44 out of the 62 parishes in our archdiocese.
The consultation involved about 1200 parishioners from parishes all over the country; it is evident that parishioners spent considerable time and effort on the exercise and gave the issues deep thought and discussion. At least 33 parish priests were involved in the exercise at parish level. So again, thanks to all who got involved and organised the Parish Consultation.
This is our Church! We all have a responsibility to find the way towards the Church that Christ wants us to be in Trinidad and Tobago today. We have embarked on a process of discernment. We all have a responsibility to listen, to pray and to ask God to guide us to the Church He wants us to be in Trinidad and Tobago for the people of the 21st century. If we all bring out gifts, we will have all that we will need to fulfil God’s call to us as Church.
We are moving towards a Pastoral Plan for the archdiocese by November 2018. This plan will outline what the archdiocese will focus on over the next five years. It will determine where we will spend our time, talent and treasure. It will focus our pastoral activities and become the template for transformation of the archdiocese at every level.
Based on several consultations over the last decade, the designers of the process selected five areas of enquiry—The Parish, The Family, Clergy and Vocations, Catholic Education, and Leadership in Church and Society.
In a meeting of priests of the archdiocese, the priests broke into five groups and began to write statements on each area of enquiry. These statements were then sent to you through your parish for conversation and comment. The parish was to host an open conversation with all who were interested to gather and look at the statements and send their comments and findings back to us. One question on the template asked if these were the most important areas of enquiry for pastoral life.
There was general consensus that the five areas were at the core of our collective areas of concern in the archdiocese. It should be noted from feedback given that the two most urgent concerns were The Parish and Catholic Education. However, three other areas emerged as priority areas—Youth and Young Adults, Social Justice and Evangelisation. Some of these will be inserted in every area. All of them will be part of the final pastoral plan.
After we received your feedback the priest leader of each area took your feedback and rewrote the statement. This was presented to the priests who broke into the five groups. They worked on the statement to ensure all concerns were incorporated. Then it was presented to all the priests who made other suggestions.
Now that we have final statements, a small team will meet to turn the statements into a pastoral plan. The team is facilitated by Dr Terrence Farrell and includes Gary Tagallie, Frs Martin Sirju, Jason Boatswain, Matthew d’Hereaux, Gerard Tang-Choon O Carm, Stephen Geofroy, Matthew Ragbir and myself.
We will go through all the information you sent, look at the recommendations you made and formulate a draft Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese. This plan will be sent back to you at the parish for further consultation and comment. It will also be available for online circulation and we will invite direct comments from you at this stage.
The team will then take your comments and have the plan finalised in connection with the feast of Christ the King. Each parish will be expected to take the plan and begin a process in your parish for implementation.
Below in bullet point is a summary of the key comments we heard from your participation.
On Parish – (1) need to be more welcoming/hospitable; (2) better communication between and among parish ministries and parishioners; (3) need to engage our youth.
On Family – (1) need for fathers to play a greater role; (2) lack of pastoral care for hurting families; (3) lack of spirituality in the home; (4) domestic violence; (5) social media as a barrier to communication.
On Catholic Education – (1) absence of a Catholic ethos in the schools; (2) non-Catholic or non-practising teachers; (3) parish priests not present in the schools; (4) injustice in placement of students; (5) we are not effective in recruitment and selection of practising Catholic teachers for all our schools.
On Clergy and Vocations – (1) poor image of clergy arising from scandals; (2) priests are tired and over-worked; (3) homilies need to be more inspiring; (4) lack of support for vocations in a secularised society.
On Leadership in Church and Society – (1) lack of accountability; (2) need for a clear Church voice on national issues; (3) role of the laity and women beyond lay ministry; (4) conflicting views on liturgical matters; (5) older people unwilling to relinquish positions of authority.
This list is not exhaustive but it gives a flavour of the kind of comments we received and the nature of the challenge and pastoral initiative we will need to undertake. Of great interest while we were looking for the statement of the problem, parishioners made several suggestions as to how these issues could be addressed and ameliorated. So we are off to a good start. We have a statement of the problem which is clear.
We will propose in due course, after further discussion and consultation with you, solutions to begin the process and we have many priests and laity who are onboard with the process. Remember we have not reached the solutions stage as yet.
Key Message: We all have a responsibility to pray, listen and discern the direction and initiatives that the Lord is asking of us as Church.
Action Step: When the plan is published, read, pray and reflect on it. Participate in your parish conversation and also, by the channels provided, we will open for feedback.
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1– 6