Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Making missionary parishes

ROME, JAN. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- If a parish does not evangelize, it is nothing more than a building, said a Vatican official, who offered four practical steps for transforming a parish into a missionary center.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, affirmed this today at a conference under way in Rome on "The Parish and the New Evangelization."

The congress is organized by the Emmanuel Community and the Pontifical Institute Redemptor Hominis. It ends Friday.

"Why should a parish be missionary," Archbishop Ranjith asked.

He explained that God's call of love mandates a missionary character for Christians: "Jesus loved his brothers and sisters to the extent that he was dedicated totally to their salvation -- this is the basis of evangelization."

The archbishop, who led the Diocese of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, before being named to the Roman Curia, called evangelization a "sign of the maturity of our faith."

"The Church exists only if it evangelizes, and the same is true for the parish. If a parish does not evangelize, it is only a building," he said. “Evangelization is not a matter of free choice. It is an obligation of our faith, the perfect expression of our charity."

Eucharist-centered

Archbishop Ranjith highlighted the importance of the Eucharist for a parish focused on the mission.

He offered the example of an Irish parish that organized "Eucharistic adoration in all the parishes. As a result, there are more vocations now. The Eucharist attracts -- the Lord attracts people."

"The Eucharist is at the center of evangelization," the archbishop affirmed. "The Eucharist must generate faith. In some parishes it is celebrated in such a manner that it does not generate faith."

The 60-year-old prelate also focused on the role of parish priests. He said that priests should understand their role by saying,"'I am useless by myself but useful in his hands.'"

Archibishop Ranjith also contended that parishes should not focus on their community alone, but "make a determined effort to reach the lost ones."

Hints

He offered some "practical steps" for giving parishes a missionary character.
"The parish community must move away from a maintenance model to a missionary model -- if the only thing we do is repair the buildings, this will kill us spiritually," the archbishop said.

Secondly, he continued, parishes need "to move away from a spirit of pessimism to a spirit of optimism." And he noted the danger of becoming the Gospel's example of a "lazy servant."

The third practical step dealt with the role of laypeople. Archbishop Ranjith encouraged priests who still think the “mission is the sole responsibility of clerics," and that "priests should decide everything by themselves" to "share with the laity."

“Each layperson is a potential missionary," he affirmed.

The fourth step was related to the third. The archbishop encouraged involving as many people as possible: "associations, groups, men, women, youth and even children -- and be courageous to go into uncharted areas, look for new methods and means."

Why not me?

Archbishop Ranjith answered questions from the conference participants after his address.A priest from the Netherlands, who presented his country as “the most secularized country in the world," asked for encouragement "because we are so marginalized -- we try to find any kind of means, like the media, to show our presence."

Archbishop Ranjith answered, "It is good to use all the means available and to think that sometimes 'dreams can become reality'" but "the most important thing is to feel strong and trust in God … and to pray."

He gave the example of his diocese in Sri Lanka, which has a large non-Christian population. Catholic laypeople go and visit the Muslim or Hindu families, he explained, and "they have tea together and discuss about religion."

"The sad thing would be to give up," the archbishop affirmed. "Be strong, be courageous, you will succeed."

A priest from Belgium asked if closing parishes reflected a lack of faith.

Archbishop Ranjith offered the example of a spiritual partnership between a Sri Lankan diocese and a German one. When a German priest died, Sri Lanka offered: "I will send you the best priest I have."

The German diocese considered the proposal but eventually decided to close the parish. This "'we are managing on our own’ means closing churches," Archbishop Ranjith lamented.

Following his address, the archbishop told ZENIT that parish priests' zeal and spirit of love are key. He offered the example of St. John Vianney, patron of priests, as an example. He also suggested Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and St. Francis Xavier as models. If St. Francis could go to the other side of the world and proclaim Christ without even knowing the language, "if it was possible for him," he said, "why can't it be possible for me?"

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