All of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s 266 parishes are beginning to examine each parish’s mission, identity and goals, “while working to determine if (each) has the resources required for sustained operation,” according to a Dec. 14 statement by the Archdiocese.
Archbishop Charles Chaput directed the ongoing archdiocesan Parish Pastoral Planning Initiative in a letter to the faithful dated Dec. 8 and read during Masses at every parish on Sunday, Dec. 11.
“The Church holds her resources in stewardship for the whole Catholic community to carry out our shared apostolic mission as believers in Jesus Christ,” the Archbishop wrote.
The letter called for addressing financial and organizational issues that cannot be postponed and that go to the heart of the parishes’ abilities to carry out their Catholic ministries. Every aspect of “our common life as a Church,” the Archbishop said, will be under scrutiny in the coming months.
The start of the Parish Pastoral Planning Initiative began with the recent establishment of Parish Planning Areas (PPAs) in the Archdiocese. Over the next six years all 266 parishes, divided into 44 PPAs with each made up of several parishes in a particular geographic area, will be examined.
The first 22 PPAs will complete their work of planning and implementation within the next three years.
“This will be a year of change for many areas the Archdiocese, and that kind of change doesn’t happen without pain,” said Msgr. Arthur E. Rodgers, the Archbishop’s delegate for the initiative and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. “Many will find out that their schools will be closed at the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission, and for some other parishes, they will begin a restructuring process at the same time.”
Statistics from the last two decades have shown that many factors, including shifts in demographics, declines in weekly Mass attendance, high densities of parishes in small geographical locations, declining numbers of clergy, serious financial difficulties and underutilized parish facilities have deeply affected parish life.
Two of the first PPAs have already begun their planning strategies — they include parishes in Philadelphia’s Manayunk section and Phoenixville in Chester County.
They are taking part in a process marked by prayer and participation of parish members, who will define the parish’s role, identity and goals in the mission of Christ. Two other PPAs will begin their planning in January 2012.
The PPAs will make their recommendations to Archbishop Chaput in February. He is expected to announce the final decisions for the Catholic communities of these four areas on March 25.
The parishes in Manayunk include St. John the Baptist, founded in 1831; St. Mary of the Assumption (German), founded in 1849; Holy Family, founded in 1885; St. Josaphat (Polish), founded in 1898; and St. Lucy (Italian), founded in 1927.
The parishes in Phoenixville include St. Mary of the Assumption, established in 1840; Sacred Heart (Slovak), established in 1900; and Holy Trinity (Polish), established in 1903. No official decisions have been made for any Parish Planning Areas at this time.
The PPA committees will base their recommendations on a process called the “evaluation of parish life.” The process will allow them to review the life and events of each parish involved in relation to the mission of the Church.
Seven areas of concentration will be included: 1) prayer and sacramental life of the parish; 2) family and community involvement; 3) invitation and evangelization; 4) initiation and faith formation; 5) pastoral outreach and service for justice; 6) leadership and care of facilities, personnel and finances; and 7) stewardship formation and practice. These areas of focus will help the committee to make sound recommendations as to whether or not each parish has the resources to remain a sustainable parish and a vibrant faith community.
“Complacency is the enemy of faith; to whatever degree complacency and pride once had a home in our local Church, events in the coming year will burn them out,” Archbishop Chaput said in his letter that prepared the way for the planning process. “The process will be painful, but going through it is the only way to renew the witness of the Church; to clear away the debris of human failure from the beauty of God’s Word and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship.”