Vincentian identity parish workNew Evangelization and the parish – Vincentian perspectives

Given the commitment of Vincentian Family leaders focus on New evangelization during this com in year this segment of Saturday Study Hall exploring the Vincentian Encyclopedia  offers some reflections on evangelization in the context of the parish today.

Pablo Dominguez, CM writes… “We live at a crucial moment in the history of the Church because we find ourselves at the end of a phase of Christianity and yet we have not moved for living out faith in the midst of a Christian society to living our faith in the midst of a secularized, de-Christianized, and de-ecclesialized world.

The new evangelization has to begin in the interior of the Church and within each Christian. As long as this is not done, the words and the documents that are published will be carried away by the wind and will have no real meaning.

The new evangelization is going to test “the creative fidelity for the mission” of every confrere involved in parish ministry. We have the ever challenging task: to be missionaries, followers of Jesus Christ evangelizing the poor … to be missionaries in the midst of the conflictive yet hopeful world and church. We have to do this with the strength of the Holy Spirit because only with this strength is the Church and the Vincentian parish able to evangelize.

One might think that the parish structures choke the missionary dimension of the parish because they are institutions that accommodate people who are already evangelized or, at the very least, Christianized … and thus for these individuals the parish has become the normal means by which they develop their Christian life.

Some thoughts from the  article  Vincentian Parishes and the New Evangelization  ….

A truly evangelizing parish

Given the reality of de-christianization the mission of the parish cannot be reduced to maintaining the faith of those who are already practicing their faith but must take on a form of evangelization that is truly missionary. This means that

  • we must accompany and support believers who are weak and/or disoriented;
  • we must help those who are alienated to re-engage on a path of conversion that leads them once again to a Christian experience;
  • we must dialogue with non-believers and listen to their criticisms, their values and their concerns …
  • we must open to them a path that helps them in some initial acceptance of the gospel; we must make an effort to make the values of the kingdom operative and present in the midst of society.

In the reality in which we live we find at least three types of parishes

a) The pre-conciliar parish, with a pastoral approach of Christianization: administration of the sacraments predominates; there is no pastoral plan; emphasis on pre-sacramental catechesis and preparation for First Communion. There is no distribution of tasks … the priest does everything and the laity are passive. The parish is closed off from the outside and there is little or no sensitivity to social issues; there are no parish groups, no pastoral council but there are some traditional pious associations … what was done before is repeated over and over again.

b) The conciliar parish, with a pastoral approach of maintenance: catechesis of children and adolescents predominates (Communion and Confirmation); there is an attempt to evangelize through the various liturgical celebrations; the concern for those who are alienated is basically religious. A group of lay people collaborate with the clergy in the administration of the parish … the rest of the laity are spectators; campaigns are organized to encourage the participation of the laity in different parish activities. There is a sensitivity to the issue of human right and assisting the poor (but not an emphasis on the poor as protagonists of their history). There is also a sensitivity to the relationship between faith and culture and parish “projects” are encouraged. There are different groups and a certain degree of community is formed among the more active parishioners. There is a pastoral plan and a pastoral council.

c) The post-conciliar parish, with a missionary and liberating pastoral approach: missionary evangelization is a priority and adult catechesis has a more prominent role than that of children and adolescents. The celebration of the Eucharist is participative; pastoral responsibilities are shared and there are good services provided in the areas of welcoming, assistance and guidance. Sensitivity to the problems of the neighborhood and beyond is encouraged and promoted: unemployment, marginalization, drugs, aging, etc. There is a clear option for the poor and a concern for their evangelization. Injustice is denounced and human rights are upheld. The parish identifies itself with a community or with a network of communities and lives in ecclesial communion.

…. I would like to share with you some words that I recently read: “Without a mission there is no future for the Church. Therefore the present era calls for a missionary renewal of the community … the present official functioning style of the Church, a style that is still in vogue, has come to its end.”

A general framework for a Vincentian parish. 

  • The parish has to have a missionary character, a clear evangelizing identity latent in its ordinary pastoral activity;
  • It is necessary for the parish to recover its proper identity, that which defines the parish as the house of God in the midst of the house(s) of humankind;
  • It is necessary to view the parish not as some fixed, stable place, but rather as a community walking in the midst of the people and its pastors have to be pilgrims, nomads who share the hopes and the concerns of the people.
  • The parish is a place of humanization and socialization where one is able to breathe in the beauty of life and the beauty of humanity and the beauty of community.
  • With regard to the characteristics proper to our charism in the matter of parish ministry, it was said:
  • Mission and charity, which characterize our charism, ought to be present in every parish that wishes to evangelize … it is the distinctive feature of a Vincentian parish
  • The organizational structure of the parish is the same for all parishes in a given diocese and yet a Vincentian parish should have a distinct style, namely, it should be characterized by the five virtues, especially simplicity and zeal;
  • There is a need to develop a “pastoral of the heart” and not just a “pastoral of the head” … a need to reach out to specific groups of people and these individuals should be affirmed in a positive manner;
  • We are called to create a renewed parish, a parish with a new face … therefore we need to be specialists with regard to the Christian initiation of adults;
  • The Vincentian parish takes special care with regard to the formation of the laity for the mission. The laity are not mere collaborators but are co-responsible for the mission;
  • Vincentian parishes should take care with regard to formation in the social doctrine of the church;
  • We must understand that this is not the time for “masses of people” in our parishes but rather small groups that are formed by families to live a credible life of faith;
  • We must strengthen the family and the Christian community to become transmitters of the faith;
  • At the present time the parish is responsible for “the first proclamation” and we, as Vincentians, should be experts in the missionary proclamation;

There is a need for the parish to live in a twofold manner: on the one hand, attention must be given to the small groups in which people are formed to live the faith in a profound and committed manner and on the other hand, attention must be given to those who request the sacraments (an opportunity for the first proclamation).

From the Conclusion of the article….

Today there are no recipes with regard to our pastoral activity, therefore it is necessary to experiment intelligently, responsibly and courageously. Then we must engage in an on-going process of evaluation aware of the fact that the primary places to renew the faith are the family and the Christian community.

These are beautiful words and very powerful lines of action for our parishes. When speaking about the twofold manner of ministering in our parishes, however, one would hope that our ordinary pastoral activity would move in both an inward and outward direction and that the second dimension would not be limited to caring for those who approach us for sacraments.

The full article in outline


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