Mission is Not under Quarantine
Parish Ministry is one of the missionary priorities of the CICM-US Province. As we affirmed at the 9th Provincial Assembly (2016), the parish, for us, is the most fitting location for carrying out ministry to the youth, for the formation of lay leaders, for the outreach to the unchurched, for responding to situations where the Gospel is not known or lived, for inter-religious dialogue (IRD) and the work of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. It is also the best place for young confreres to have a positive environment in which to grow in their CICM Missionary Identity.
These days, however, doing parish ministry has been put to the test by the pandemic. Covid19 has fundamentally changed how we do ministry and are church. It has caused every parish in the world to rethink how it holds liturgies, how it reaches out to their faithful and members, how it extends its outreach to the poor and marginalized, and how to celebrate the sacraments of the Church in the absence of a normally large gathering of parishioners inside a worship space. Confreres, both in parishes and special ministries, have a challenging ministry on how to make sure that the Good News is proclaimed amidst the lockdown of towns, cities and states, and make sure that the faithful parishioners do not feel abandoned, alone or isolated. For indeed, “the Word of God is not chained” (2 Tim 2:9) nor in quarantine and mission is not locked in the church or worship space or the pastor’s offices.
Despite the challenges it has brought us, the health crisis has become an opportunity for confreres in parish ministry to be creative and venture out to the unorthodox spaces to be able to reach and minister to their parishioners. Many who have not used Facebook or YouTube before, or other means of social communications, have had to learned how to use them in service of the mission. In other countries, there were documented stories of how priests brought Christ out in the streets with the monstrance, how another priest celebrated mass on top of the roof of the Church for the neighborhood, how another organized a drive-through confession at the parking lot of the Church. There was also a news item about a priest who exposed the Blessed Sacrament at the parking lot of the Church so that parishioners could adore Christ inside the safety of their cars. In some poor countries, parishes, religious communities and even a few students and professors of our own Maryhill School of Theology organized themselves to pack food and distributed them to the poor and vulnerable members of the society who were most affected by the stay-at-home order. Religious houses and parishes transformed their available spaces as dormitories for the doctors and nurses working at the hospitals, giving them a room to rest and sleep so that they can be sure that their families were safe at home. These are many such stories of many ordinary priests and consecrated religious who are doing their best to share the mercy and compassion of God with others. I am grateful and I am proud of what confreres have accomplished and what they are still doing to respond to the demands of the mission during this time of testing. Their collaboration with their respective Bishops also highlights the unified pastoral response to the pandemic. There is a new spirit of Pentecost that is guiding the Church and giving her ministers inspiration to serve.
At our 10th Provincial Assembly (2019), we reflected on what it means for us to be a missionary in a Parish and how we can make the parishes where we are more missionary. Each parish is different, with different needs and cultural contexts. Confreres who are in parishes will have to work with lay people in a pastoral partnership and creativity that touches all aspects of mission: parish administration, ministry, organization and evangelization. And “unless pastors give clear leadership, parishes will not make the effort.
Clear leadership demands more than waiting until the parish council reaches “consensus”. 1 In other words, in order for our parishes to be mission-oriented, it has to start from ourselves. When this health crisis is over, we should ask ourselves: What concrete steps can I do or can I change in my parish leadership that is faithful to the CICM missionary values according to the CICM Constitutions? How do I assess the fulfillment of my mission as a CICM religious-missionary priest involved in parish ministry?
In 2008, the National Catholic Educational Association published a document entitled In Fulfillment of Their Mission: The Duties and Tasks of a Roman Catholic Priest, An assessment project. The document draws primarily upon the Program of Priestly Formation, in particular the four pillars of priestly formation, as well as Pastores Dabo Vobis, and the Basic Plan for Ongoing Formation of Priests. This document was a product of the dialogue with the Midwest Association of Theological Schools (MATS)2 and the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC)3.
In Fulfillment of Their Mission offers a profile of what it is that a successful priest in parish ministry, needs to be able to do. It also offers a matrix of nine ministerial duties (major areas of responsibility) and their constituent tasks. The document recognizes that this listing does not claim to be exhaustive, but as a whole it provides a fairly complete picture of what skills, knowledge, and behaviors a priest in today’s Church is likely to exercise in ministry.
I ‘d like to share this with you as an assessment tool, a template for you to evaluate and set goals for your own growth as ministers in the parish. It can also be a guide as you set personal goals and strategize how you might improve in your parish ministry as a missionary (when Covid-19 is over). I have added a 10th element on mission because of our missionary character and identity as CICM.