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The Pastoral Plan launch – November 20th, 2006.
Extracts from address by Most Rev. Dr. William Lee DD
“Tonight we launch a five year Pastoral Plan for the diocese of Waterford and Lismore and I welcome you all most sincerely. The Pastoral Plan is the result of much work by many people – lay, religious and priests of the diocese – over a period of about four years. It is neither a beginning nor an end, but rather part of an ongoing process of renewal in the diocese. If we do not look ahead and plan ahead then we content ourselves with being a Church which reacts, a Church which responds to crises as they arise and which allows others to set the agenda for us. If this happens, the news will inevitably be bad news and the Good News will get sidelined. We have good news to share but we must read the signs of the times, listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us, and then plan how we are going to share that Good News now and in the future. Having planned, we must then act; we must “put out into the deep”…………
How a Pastoral Plan is drawn up is as important as the content of the Plan itself. The process cannot be rushed. If enough time and thought is given to the process and if there is widespread involvement in it, then the local Christian community will begin to grow even before the Plan itself takes shape.
The Process of Pastoral Planning
There is no single way to approach Pastoral Planning but it seems to me that there are four elements integral to the process.
(a) Praying. Prayer is not an optional extra but an integral part of every stage of Pastoral Planning. Pastoral Planning involves discerning what the Spirit is saying to us at this time and in this place. This can only be done in the context of unhurried prayer. As this plan was being put together, we discerned and we prayed. Prayer – not just individual prayer but prayer together is very much a part of its implementation.
(b) Listening. A Listening Process through the Diocese preceded the drawing up of this Pastoral Plan and at the end of the Process we published and distributed the findings of the process. The Listening was widespread, and I hope, respectful. It was done humbly and without prejudice or fear. At the meetings, God spoke to us, not just through the words of scripture but also through the voices of everybody present. This evening I want to acknowledge the amount of generous and pioneering work that was done in the course of the Listening Process. In many ways this listening to each other in a prayerful context was the most important part of shaping this Pastoral Plan. It was carried out by trained facilitators with detailed reports on each meeting drawn up. The facilitators took on the challenge with courage and faith. Priests faced what was an unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable experience with fortitude and openness. And everybody took the opportunity to share their vision, their hopes and their needs. Much concern was expressed about the quality of liturgies, about diminishing congregations, about the absence of younger people, about the declining number of priests. People spoke about the enormity of the challenge faced by the Church in today’s culture.
At the same time, there was a strong sense of hope and enthusiasm, and a confidence that the Spirit would guide our way. People yearned for a new vibrancy. They were inspired by the vision of a Church where men and women, clergy and laity, worked together as partners in the mission of proclaiming the good News of Jesus Christ. The process showed us the huge amount of goodwill and energy, the great richness of ideas and talents that go to make up each parish and the diocese as a whole. It reminded us that the Diocese is not something that happens in Bishop’s House. It is the living Body of Christ and each one of us is part of it. That Body of Christ is filled with the great variety of gifts – and all these gifts are needed. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you” (1 Corr. 12:21). In the Listening Process we saw the whole Body of Christ working together and that was so encouraging. It was a most impressive diocesan effort for which we should be grateful to God. And to all who took part, to all who contributed in so many different ways, I way to say a heartfelt thanks.
(c) Planning. A fear that many people expressed at the listening meetings is: “will this just be all talk or will anything ever come of it?” It was a genuine fear. Sometimes we priests discuss things and talk things to death. The same topics surface again and again and the discussion often ends up going nowhere. I am sure all of you know the feeling. This can lead to inertia and low morale, to negativity and cynicism. It is important to listen, but this in itself is not enough. The findings of the Listening Process had to be translated into plans, into what the Pope calls “Resolutions and Guidelines for Action”. And this has been done in our Pastoral Plan.
(d) Action. The Plan needs to be followed by action. It will be the responsibility not just of the Bishop, priests or religious, but of the whole Christian/Diocesan community to ensure that the Plan, which we were involved in from the beginning is implemented. “Put out into the deep” from St. Luke’s Gospel echoes Jesus call to the tired and dispirited disciples who had “worked hard all night and caught nothing”. “Put out into the deep” is a call to the diocesan community to be active not passive, to be proactive not reactive. And it is my hope that, as we accept and endeavour to implement the Pastoral Plan, we will be full of new energy, new direction and a new sense of purpose. I am putting in place an Implementation Team which will guide us as we go forward………………
Vision of the Plan
I want to say something about the overall structure of the plan. The heart of the whole plan is its vision. It sets out a vision of what our Christian communities can be like, if they are inspired by the vision that animated Jesus in the gospels, and which then animated the earliest Christian communities. This vision is a vision of vibrant faith communities, sustained by faith in Jesus Christ, nourished by lifegiving celebrations of the Eucharist and characterized by a spirit of service and care for all.
The plan is called “Building in Faith” and the imagery is taken from St. Paul. As Saint Paul tells us, we are God’s building and Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. We are built on the foundation of Jesus, and so, our vision is built on his vision.
Developing this imagery, the plan has four main sections, called ‘pillars’. The four pillars are – Building Christian Community; Growing in Faith; Celebrating the Eucharist; and Caring for one another. The specific objectives and targets you will find in the plan are all about strengthening these four pillars, i.e.;
- developing a feeling of community and belonging, where the gifts of all are brought into play;
- enriching the faith of people of all ages, both adults and young people and children;
- revitalising the experience of Sunday Eucharist and creating other opportunities for nourishing people’s spiritual lives;
- further developing the church as a community of care, with special attention to those whose need is greatest.
This vision is what will sustain us. When we become immersed in the details of different projects, we must never lose sight of the overall picture – of how, on these four fronts, we are trying, in the power of the Spirit, to make Jesus’ dream come true in our own time and place…………..