The Disciple Maker Survey as well as our own experience indicates that there are challenges to our parishes and our diocese. But the survey also indicates some strengths on which we can build. First of all, our diocese has a solid core of dedicated Catholics. When the survey went out early this year it was completed by 6,135 people. That is more than 35% of the average number who attend Mass on any weekend. Normally a 10-15% response to such surveys is considered good. This response rate indicates that a significant number of Catholics in our diocese care and want to be heard. They want to contribute to our church’s response to challenges we face.
Among the other strengths that the survey surfaced across the parishes of the diocese was the range of how we want to define ourselves a Catholics. For example, when parishioners were asked how they viewed themselves and their faith only 10% said “I consider myself Catholic, though faith is not a significant part of my life.” On the other hand, more than 55% indicated that they were growing as a disciple of Jesus the Christ. Most of these saw their relationship with Jesus Christ as the most important relationship in their life. This is a strong base on which to build a revitalized diocesan church.
This strong base shows again in the parishes of the diocese when the survey results indicated that more than 70% of the respondents agreed that their parishes helped them to grow spiritually as Catholics. The response was somewhat weaker when asked about their parish helping to form them as disciples of Jesus Christ. It was even weaker when we were asked about our role as disciples who have a call to be witnesses and sharers of our faith, as low as 20% in some categories.
The fundamental call that comes from our baptism is to a discipleship to Jesus Christ. In this role we are to follow the model offered by Jesus and also to accept the mission of Jesus Christ. This means that through the witness of our faith we share the Good News with others. The survey indications are that we are not as aware of this as we might be and our parishes may be able to do more in forming us for discipleship that witnesses to the Good News in word and action. Currently, the challenges our parishes face in structure and resources may contribute to an inability to do more.
This baptismal call that is given to each of is the call that Jesus issued to every disciple, to be his witnesses. (Luke 24:48) The Gospel writer Mark is even more explicit when he tells of the Risen Jesus appearing to his disciples as they sat at table. “Go,” he says “into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
The revitalization and realignment project in which we are involved is intended to build parishes and a diocese that can nurture the strengths of the faith we share. It is a project filled with hope and directed at building a church, a community of disciples who witness for the faith, for the present world and for future generations.