By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
We are happy to announce the start of our diocesan pastoral plan that we have named Pastoral Reimagining to begin on Pentecost Sunday in two weeks and culminate on Pentecost Sunday, 2024. The overarching theme is: “There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and one God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6) Like the Synod on Synodality, it is intended to be a user-friendly and diocesan-wide process that is centered on the four marks of the church: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. At the outset, it is notable to see the interconnection between the process of the Synod on Synodality and the four marks of the church that we proclaim in the Nicene Creed at Masses of Sunday obligation throughout our Catholic world.
We recall that the theme of the world-wide Synod on Synodality is Communion – Participation – Mission. Pope Francis gave us this lens to rediscover the nature and mission of the church in the modern world. However, it is a standard that is ever ancient and ever new. The Nicene Creed in 325 AD taught that the Church is One – Holy – Catholic – Apostolic and within this belief the harmony with the Synodal theme is straightaway apparent. This is the nature and mission of the Catholic Church that did not just emerge in 325 AD but was there from the beginning at the first Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit reveals that God is one, and that the Good News of Jesus Christ is intended for the entire world.
In this light, our pastoral reimagining is building upon the work of the Synod on Synodality which produced good fruit in our diocese. Once again, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to bless and guide us in our willingness to cooperate with God’s grace in a spirit of renewal. The good fruit of the Synod process is contained in our diocesan synthesis that expresses the results of prayer, scripture, and conversation from over a one thousand people from around the diocese. (View the synthesis here: https://jacksondiocese.org/synod.) Pastoral reimagining will allow each parish and mission to take a more direct and intentional look at the reality of their community in the spirit of Synodality in the aftermath of the pandemic.
There will be four stages for the pastoral reimagining process over the course of one year, framed by the feast of Pentecost this year and next. The first stage will be the foundation upon which we take a deeper dive into the nature and mission of the church as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
How? Briefly, we have created four videos in English and in Spanish of approximately 20 minutes in length, with discussion questions for each of the four productions. They will be available on Pentecost, and going forward they will be widely distributed throughout the diocese. Each pastor and/or Lay Ecclesial Minister is to form a core group in their parish community to work with these videos as the foundation for the year ahead. Calling upon the Holy Spirit we pray that each parish will be encouraged, as well as challenged to be whom God calls us to be. All parishes will also receive their own input from our diocesan Synod process to add to the discussion. This first stage should be undertaken during an opportune time frame over the next few months and be completed by late summer or early autumn.
In the early fall of this year, a thorough report of the demographics of our diocese, including the religious and Catholic populations, will be available for the core team, as well as for all of the faithful throughout the diocese. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) will be the source for this research. Stage two without a doubt will enrich the local conversations as the One – Holy – Catholic – Apostolic process coalesces with current demographics and researched based future projections.
Briefly, the third stage in the early part of next year will be deanery gatherings in the six regions of our diocese to develop a synthesis that best captures the reality of our diocese in each region.
During the fourth stage in the spring of 2024, a diocesan core team and I will have the opportunity to examine and take to heart all that comes from the six deaneries. By God’s grace, a pastoral letter will be the good fruit of this process that will be “a lamp for our feet and a light on our path” (Psalm 119:105) for pastoral reimagining and planning.
I am excited over the possibilities for this diocesan endeavor, and may the Lord prosper the work of our hearts and minds and grant us a year of favor in the spirit of Pentecost.