The plan announced last month to merge 12 parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was the result of months of discussion and review by parishioners, pastors, deans and regional bishops on up to Archbishop Charles Chaput, who gave final approval.

As thoughtful and inclusive as the process was, no one is happy with the result, nor could they be. Closing a parish is never desirable or painless. No one wants to see a magnificent old church close its doors, or disrupt the practice of the faith for parishioners.

Perhaps one reason the plan was accepted if not welcomed by parishioners in most of the affected areas is because people knew something had to change. Parishioners see fewer people in the pews Sunday after Sunday, year after year. They know a parish or parishes a mile away are having the same experience. And they know that with smaller numbers of priests today than yesteryear it is harder to staff many close-by parishes, each with its own pastor.

Even for parishes not experiencing the financial difficulties that the above conditions create, Catholics deserve a parish that encourages them to pray together, work together in charity and share the communion of life and love that is a vibrant, healthy parish family.

That is what the pastoral planning process is all about: to strengthen parishes with available resources. That might mean joining one parish community with another one nearby in order to provide Catholics with a better experience of Catholic parish life, as they deserve to have.

The plan to merge the 12 parishes and come to a decision on another eight later this year is the first step in a process that will examine every parish in the Archdiocese. The goal of strengthening parishes goes hand-in-glove with the other major priority of the Church at this time, the New Evangelization.

For parishes of any size anywhere can only be healthy if parishioners and clergy together are on fire with faith in Jesus Christ, and actively live and share their faith with each other and the wider community.