The Best is Yet to Come

Thanks for your patience, understanding, and support this week after the tough announcements of parish mergers a week ago.

Thanks, too, for the good questions, and even the criticisms, at least those thoughtfully and civilly expressed.

The major question I receive, understandably, from our people, and the media, is, why?

Why do we have to reduce our numbers of parishes from 368 to about 305?  Why are these mergers necessary?  Fair enough questions…

Most people then offer a reply to that question:  because of shortages.  They observe that a looming shortage in the number of priests and in the financial resources of the archdiocese – we’ve given $362 million to parishes and schools in need over the past ten years alone – are the main reasons for the decision.

And, yes, they have a point.  Shortages in the number of priests and in the available money to support struggling parishes are, indeed, a part of the answer to the question; Why?

However, a perceptive journalist laser-beamed the real shortage:  “Seems like you have a shortage of people!”  Bingo!

She was right!  Simply put, our people aren’t coming anymore.  True, some of the shortage in older parishes is due to the fact that our folks have moved.  The people that do come are as committed as ever.  But, we still have to admit our numbers of committed, consistent churchgoers are down.

It hurts me to say that, and I’d rather deny it and offer less troublesome reasons, especially since I also must admit that part of the reason our people aren’t showing up anymore in their parishes is because they’ve lost confidence in some of us bishops and priests.

I’m quick to point out that, unlike a lot of other dioceses, the Catholic population of the archdiocese of New York continues to rise, and has not sunk below its 2.8 million membership, mostly due to the ongoing gift of immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.

Still, though, we have to admit, our people aren’t coming anymore.  On any given Sunday, the stats tell us that only somewhere between 15 and 28% of our folks show up!

One parish slated to merge reported in the study phase of our planning process that, on a given Sunday, maybe 500 people are at the Masses.  Yet, 3,000 signed a petition to reverse the decision!  Where have they been!  If even half of them had been part of normal, expected parish life, the decision would not have been foreseen.

We Catholics are not alone.  My Jewish and non-Catholic Christian colleagues and neighbors tell me they are experiencing the same shortage.

The experts at the Pew Research Center document the decline, not in believers, but in belongers.

(The same is true, by the way with our beloved schools.  When we made the painful decision two years ago to merge our 220 schools into 160 stronger, more robust ones, a lot of reasons were given:  high cost of education, competition from other schools, for instance.

The main reason?  Our Catholic parents – – 70% of them, to be exact, – – choose not to send their children to our excellent schools.)

So, now our sacred responsibility is to win our people back!  That’s what Pope Saint John Paul II called the new evangelization!  That means asking why they no longer come, how we can attract them back, and what we’ve done wrong, a strategy Pope Francis is encouraging.

As one savvy priest remarked, “Let’s stop closing parishes and start filling them up!”

With, yes, fewer, but now stronger, fuller, more vibrant parishes, better served by more available priests, in new communities no longer straitjacketed by demands of maintenance of huge, half-empty, in-need-of-repairs buildings, we can unleash a new evangelization!  The best is yet to come!

Let’s go from shortages – – of priests, resources, and people – – to a surplus!

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2 Responses to “The Best is Yet to Come”

  1. Susan Varenne says:

    We need devotional liturgies that make it worthwhile for people to come. And we need much, much better preaching. Preaching that challenges people to be good Catholics and teaches them what the Faith requires. The more watered down things get, the more accommodating to secular culture, the less the Church inspires people to come. Why should they? Reverence, devotion, deep spirituality, devotions, piety, a sense that the priests are absolutely in love with God, that Christ is real, that He is worth knowing. We need this kind of witness. The Church has become too weak with her witness. Too much “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.” People do know that they are sinners. It is fake to tell them that God loves them and their sins don’t count against them. People know better than this. So preach about what is sinful and then show people the remedies for sin–sacramental penance, a firm purpose of amendment, a commitment to renew one’s life and to live virtuously. Look up Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine, the priest who has revitalized parish life in Marseille. He is a good example. He wrote a great book: To the Devil with the Lukewarm. It was addressed to priests who seek comfort, convenience, a self-centered life. Read this. The world is thirsty for genuine witness, the kind that models a life given over wholly to Christ. Priests promise celibacy. They should make it mean something, not just become bachelors with a church job. We must pray that God will set our hearts on fire.

  2. Jim McTeirnan says:

    I fully understand the reasoning and the need to merge and close parishes. I do however question some of the choices. For example Guardian Angel and St. Columba both in Chelsea. Although Guardian Angel was named the designated church it has a less vibrant membership and does less to serve the community. According to the Guardian Angel Bulletin the collection yields less than 1000 a week. St Columba has an active senior program, 12 step meetings and a vibrant flock both English and Spanish masses are offered. The major difference is that Guardian Angel still has a school in session. I think it is a major oversight for the diocese to overlook the value of property next to highline. Clearly the money yielded from the sale of Guardian Angel which is in a flood zone, and a liability to the diocese could be used to turn either the old St Columba school building or the old St Michaels school building into a state of the art facility. It is only a matter of time before the tough decision to close one of these parishes completely is a reality. I urge the diocese to investigate the impact of loosing St. Columba. Ideally this choice will never have to be made, by now I think we all know better.

    Faithfully Yours

    James F McTeirnan