Next January, I will be making a special trip to Rome, along with other bishops from Missouri and some adjoining states.
We have been invited to make our “ad limina” visit to the Holy See.
The Latin phrase refers to one of the primary reasons for the visit, to pray at the tombs (the “thresholds”) of Saints Peter and Paul.
The other primary purpose for the trip is to honor the Holy Father’s responsibility of calling us to be in union with the Pope and the rest of the Church.
To do that, we will be meeting with the heads of various offices in the Holy See and Pope Francis to report on the state of our dioceses.
In preparation for those meetings, the Holy See asks me to provide a report on what has happened in our diocese since the last ad limina visit, which Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos made in 2010.
As we all know, much has happened in these past nine years! The chancery staff are now busy gathering the appropriate figures for the statistical data portion of the report, which is due to the Holy See by the end of June.
In addition to giving an account of the number of people who have been baptized, confirmed, married, buried, etc., it is also necessary to document all that we have been doing to make our faith vibrant and evident in our parishes.
I ask you, as a member of the diocese, to assist me in writing the last section of the report by reflecting with me on how these past efforts are giving us a foundation for building the Church through the next decade.
The instructions from the Holy See for the development of the report states, “the preparation of the Quinquennial Report on the local level affords a privileged occasion for reflection on the situation of the diocese and pastoral planning for its future.”
These are very challenging times for us.
We are learning more details about the terrible abuse of power by some of our priests and bishops.
We have a culture that is suspicious of organized religions, so that the fastest growing demographic is those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” These are people who profess no religious affiliation — the “nones.”
And, particular to our own diocese, our rural communities are declining in population. Our buildings are showing signs of delayed maintenance, and our priests are stretched thin.
Yet, in all of this, I see signs of hope.
I believe the Holy Spirit is using these challenges to help us understand what it means to reform ourselves.
Yes, we have great challenges, but we also have great possibilities.
We have parishes that are genuine centers of faith, hope and charity in their communities.
We have people who understand God has blessed them much, so they in turn use their gifts to build up the Kingdom out of gratitude.
And we have dedicated laity, religious, deacons and priests who know we are better when we work together.
Many of you have shared your faith and commitment to our Church with me. I know I am not alone in seeing signs of hope.
In recent years, many parishes have worked through the Parish Viability and Vitality process. We are using the information received from those sessions, not only for our report to Rome, but also as we discern what kind of Church we want to become in the next decade.
Recently, we contracted with Leadership Roundtable, a national organization whose mission is to “promote best practices and accountability in the management, finances, communications and human resources development of the Catholic Church in the United States, including greater incorporation of the expertise of the laity.”
They are providing coaching and mentoring to our pastors, and we are utilizing them to assist the Chancery personnel in improving how we work and relate to the parishes.
Just as our parishes have been reviewing their vitality over the past few years, I want the Chancery staff to do the same.
I also want to hear from you. I found the listening sessions we conducted in the parishes in advance of the November meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be invaluable.
We will be conducting similar sessions this month, at three locations in the diocese, so I can hear your hopes and dreams for our Church, and what our priorities need to be to make those hopes and dreams into a reality.
I truly believe we are better together, and we will only be successful if everyone is involved.
I hope to see you at one of these sessions.
For those unable to attend, we will also provide an online means of engagement. Watch our social media and The Catholic Missourian for more information on that.