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Any organization can only address a limited number of multi-dimensional issues over a 3-5 year period. This is just as true for the Archdiocese of Atlanta as for other religious, governmental or business entities. The results of the Pastoral Plan survey were combined with the responses to the survey in December requested by the Vatican in preparation for the Synod on the Family and with the results from interviewing all pastors in late 2012 to identify major issues for consideration during the next steps in the planning process. After reviewing this information, Archbishop Gregory has selected four multi-dimensional issues to be the focus of this planning effort:
1. Knowing Our Faith–There is a huge need and hunger for more effective and available catechesis and faith formation to help all ages to understand, accept and apply the church’s teachings to their everyday lives. Key dimensions of this issue requiring attention include:
- As stated in the catechism of the Catholic Church, parents are the primary teachers of the faith to their children. Although this responsibility is acknowledged at baptism, many parents do not feel they have the knowledge and resources to teach their faith adequately to their children especially given the time and job pressures that most parents experience. What can we do to support parents in their role as primary teachers of the faith to their children?
- The rise of secularism in the United States has resulted in Sunday no longer being viewed as the “Lord’s Day”. This view leads to compartmentalizing religious practice into fulfilling a weekly obligation and placing religious education classes on a par with attending sports or other activities. What can we do to improve the availability of religious education programs and resources to “meet people where they are” so as to enable everyone to grow in his/her faith throughout their lives?
- Faith, values, and norms are passed from one generation to another through the teaching and example of parents, grandparents, priests and teachers. Even if Catholics can recite the tenets of Catholic teaching, they may not be able to explain the reasons for those tenets. What can we do to improve Catholics’ understanding of the “why” of Catholic teachings through homilies, religious education classes, Bible study classes, retreats and other faith formation activities?
2. Living Our Faith – Knowing our faith is not enough – we must live it too! In a recent homily, Pope Francis pointed out that early Christians were easily recognized because of how they lived their lives – which differed greatly from the society surrounding them. Living a Catholic life in today’s secular society can be just as countercultural. Key dimensions of this issue requiring attention include:
- Many Catholics feel uncomfortable expressing/defending Catholic teachings that go against secular values either because they want to “blend in” or they feel ill-equipped to challenge popular opinions. Strong and deep faith is needed to live a countercultural life as Jesus did in His own time. What can we do to enable more Catholics to proclaim and defend Catholic teachings more readily and effectively in an increasingly hostile environment?
- The results of both the Vatican survey and the Pastoral Plan survey indicated a strong concern that Church leaders are missing the true feelings and concerns of the laity regarding key family and social issues. These results suggest an urgent need to develop a more effective and timely communications program at the parish level to clearly establish the Church’s strategy and teachings on these issues. What can we do at the parish level to help families address these complex issues impacting their faith, personal lives and relationships?
3. Spreading/Keeping Our Faith – Popes from Pope Paul VI to Pope Francis have called the faithful to take up the work of the New Evangelization which consists of teaching the faith through preaching, catechesis and all forms of Catholic education, in celebrating the faith in the Sacraments and in prayer and in living the faith. Key dimensions of this issue requiring attention include:
- Many strategic studies have highlighted the ongoing challenge and importance of retaining Catholic youth and young adults as active members of the church. Unfortunately, current “normal behavior” for Catholic youth and young adults can be summarized as ceasing catechesis immediately after Confirmation, moving from practicing to non-practicing status while in college, and then drifting toward no religious identification as young adults. What can we do to create a “new normal” for Catholic youth and young adults that encourages active participation in their faith?
- It is often stated that the second largest religion in the United States consists of inactive Catholics. A few years ago, the Archdiocese of Atlanta participated in a major program, Catholics Come Home, to reach out to and encourage inactive Catholics to return to the church and it generated a strong, positive response from divorced Catholics in the Archdiocese. What can we do to encourage parishioners to reach out and invite inactive Catholics who are their friends and neighbors to attend Mass, social functions or religious studies at their parish?
- Pope Francis obviously believes that actions speak much louder than words. His example of serving the least in our midst is a model of evangelization that highlights how meeting community needs positively impacts the visibility, values and inclusiveness of our faith. What can we do to not only expand the number and scope of parish and archdiocesan outreach programs but also increase the proportion of parishioners participating in these programs?
4. Evolution of Our Parishes – Progress on the first three issues listed above is not possible without strong, motivated parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Although each parish is unique, they also share common challenges brought by growth and increasing diversity. Key dimensions of this issue include:
- Many factors are changing what is means to be a “parish” – increasingly diverse congregations with differing concepts and experience of “parish”, family schedules allowing for little time to be together in one place, limited parish resources to meet parishioners’ needs. What can we do to redefine the meaning of “parish” in order to better support families and family life?
- Every demographic report for the 69 counties of the Archdiocese in the past 10 years reflects two seemingly inexorable trends: continuing compounded growth and increasing ethnic diversity. In the next five years, there will be no ethnic majority in any of the largest counties in the Archdiocese. These trends have a significant impact on clergy, parish leadership, ministries, and facilities. What can we do to define and create new models for shared parish leadership that respect cultural diversity without losing the sense of “one parish family”?
- Parishes are getting larger while the number of priests serving a growing Catholic population increases only gradually, if at all. Currently, the average ratio of families to priests in the Archdiocese is nearly 1500 families per priest. The number of priests in parish ministry is projected to remain flat through 2030 while the number of Catholics could increase by 50% to 100%. What can we do to ensure sacramental availability to all Catholics in the Archdiocese while also ensuring that priests are able to live a healthy and full life?