We’ve been talking a lot about Revitalization & Realignment. What’s the connection between the two? What does Realignment mean for us in the Diocese of Saint John? Let’s begin by noting that Revitalization is intended to help us grow as disciples of Jesus. In fact, it’s aimed at becoming what Pope Francis calls for in The Joy of the Gospel (27) “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything…” This is a vision of church as a community of disciples, working to share the message and carry out the mission of Jesus Christ in our world. This vision is what Revitalization is all about.
But what is Realignment about? What does it mean for us? The short answer to these questions is that to realign is to become a church capable of carrying out this vision. For our diocese in 2017, it means we must examine how we are structured and how we are able to grow. Realignment will allow our local church, our diocese, to be a community of disciples on mission.
Both Revitalization and Realignment are directed to the whole Diocese of Saint John. They are not projects of individual parishes, nor of only part of the diocese. This is a project of the whole diocese. Every parish will be impacted. Not a single parish will be unaffected. Put in another way, the status quo is not an option. The structure of the whole diocese will change with Realignment.
For 175 years, our ancestors - the Catholics of this area - have held the vision of living their faith and passing this faith along to the next generations. They planned and worked to make this dream a reality for their children and their children’s children. They gave of themselves to build communities of disciples who shared their faith with others. In doing so, they responded to the settings and the times in which they lived. As times changed, so did their way of being communities of disciples. Sometimes this meant adding new communities. Sometimes it meant that communities merged with others or even ceased to exist. Change is a reality of life and growth.
Realignment of our diocese is the examination and response to the changes of our own time. It means we’re responding as our ancestors responded, addressing the need for change and looking to the future with hope. The population of our province is shrinking and at the same time, it’s aging. Like the general population, our parish communities find fewer persons who are active. At the same time, we have fewer priests in our diocese. They too are aging and many of them are nearing retirement. More than this, the parish of the 21st century exists in a new reality. We need to work much harder at evangelization, to put more energy into sharing the Good News, both within and beyond our walls.
As Pope Francis has said, we are called to be a missionary church. He sees the church as an “evangelizing community”. That means a community that shares the Good News and calls and forms every single member to be a missionary. To this end, Pope Francis calls for a reform of our structures “to make them more mission-oriented.” (See: The Joy of the Gospel 25-28)
Realignment in the Saint John Diocese requires us to look at our current parish structures and ask ourselves: how can we realign our parishes in a way that strengthens us as evangelizing disciples? What must we do to have full churches, celebrating vibrant liturgies? How can our parishes offer a broad range of opportunities for faith formation to children, youth and adults? How can we develop communities with an outreach that touches our world, sharing the Gospel in both word and action?
What does all this promise for our future? It means our whole diocese will be different. It will have fewer parishes and missions. Parishes will be larger and will be served by a number of priests. As well, these parishes will have a support staff of lay persons. All of this is intended to provide more services, assisting the formation and growth of communities of disciples, reaching out to all ages.
A revitalized church in the Saint John Diocese will have parishes with sufficient people, material and financial resources to be missionary evangelizing communities. To turn again to Pope Francis, he has called upon us to make our parishes “environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.” (The Joy of the Gospel 28)
We should be very grateful to our ancestors for responding to the needs of the church in their time. If we don’t look to the future with hope we will be letting them and ourselves down.