New Instruction. The renewal of the parish in a missionary sense.

The Congregation for the Clergy has issued a new Instruction with indications for bishops to rethink the restructuring of parish communities in a missionary and evangelizing spirit. 

Giovanni Tridente-July 30, 2020-Reading time: 5 minutes

A theological-pastoral and canonical instrument, which is part of the dynamism of the changes that for years have been questioning the conformation of parishes (communities of the faithful), their (re)organization and development to better respond to the demands of a world that evolves rapidly but that - precisely for this reason - does not cease to question and demand the evangelizing responsibility of all the baptized.

It is on this basis that the most recent Instruction issued by the Congregation for the Clergy, entitled The pastoral conversion of the parish community at the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church.. This document follows the path opened up by the interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesia de misterio, of August 15, 1997, concerning the collaboration of the lay faithful with the ministry of priests, and by the Instruction The presbyter, pastor and guide of the community, published on August 4, 2002 by the same Congregation for the Clergy. 

In a totally changed ecclesial context, as it was said - bearing in mind the importance of the evangelizing mission strongly claimed in the last years and plastically summarized in the words: "In a totally changed ecclesial context, as it was said - bearing in mind the importance of the evangelizing mission strongly claimed in the last years and plastically summarized in the words "Church on the way out" proposed by the magisterium of Pope Francis-, the new indications aim to reaffirm the conviction that everyone can find their place in the Church, according to their own vocation and charism, trying to overcome extremist drifts that in many cases end up "clericalizing" the laity or "laicizing" the clergy, as the Pope has denounced many times. Abuses and drifts that the document therefore seeks to avoid.

Practical information

No new legislation is introduced, as is otherwise typical of the Instructions, but rather practical indications are offered, especially to the bishops, so that they can discern with the necessary expertise the many pastoral choices that are imposed in very diverse realities and territories, depending on the circumstances, always linked to the various forms of participation of all the baptized in the evangelizing process. This is the case, for example, of the opportunity to verify a pastoral of closeness and cooperation between different parish communities (erection of zones or pastoral units, union or suppression of parishes, diocesan restructuring...), but also to rethink and deepen, eventually, decisions already taken but that have not given the expected fruits.

The objective - as explained by Msgr. Andrea Ripa, Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Clergy - is to always achieve the following goals "a genuinely ecclesial action, where law and prophecy can be combined for the greater good of the community.". In other words, on the basis of the experience gained from the signals received by the Vatican dicastery, the aim is to avoid overly subjective decisions, at the discretion of a particular bishop or group, which can lead - and have led - to improper interpretations of the life of a community or of the episcopal ministry.

It can happen, in fact, that the parish is conceived, for example, as a "company" (where there is a "democratic" distribution of tasks between pastors and laity, who inevitably become functionaries) or as an "absolute" of the parish priest, who decides autonomously everything and leaves the laity only marginal roles, possibly as simple executors.

Looking at the history of the community

The master line proposed by the Instruction is to take into account, in introducing any change or restructuring, the history and traditions of each particular community, so as not to eradicate belonging to a journey of community life that is nourished by the past, avoiding letting projects fall from on high, as Pope Francis himself has opportunely clarified on various occasions. At the same time, it is necessary to exercise the virtue of patience, to proceed gradually, to multiply consultations, to carry out in-depth studies and experimental phases before any definitive decision, which must be tested on the ground and, if appropriate, must also be rectified.

From this moment on, therefore, the bishops have one more instrument to verify the viability of the various projects of reform of parish communities or diocesan restructurings that are underway or planned, so that they respond faithfully to the breath of the Spirit that calls for this type of consideration, in order to better contribute to the evangelizing mission of the Church in our time. And this, after all, is the inevitable and unpostponable axis of the vocation of every baptized person, a parameter of unity in the midst of the innumerable gradations of uniqueness and personal differences.

But the role of the pastor as "proper pastor" of the communities is also reiterated, in addition to highlighting the pastoral service offered in each of the realities by the deacons, the consecrated and the laity, called to participate actively, according to their own vocation and their own ministry, in the unique evangelizing mission of the Church, as was said.

The document was approved by Pope Francis on June 27 and was signed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Beniamino Stella, together with Secretaries Mercier and Patron Wong, and Undersecretary Ripa, two days later on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. It is composed of 124 points and is subdivided into 11 parts, plus the introduction and conclusion. 

As a premise, the invitation to parish communities is underlined. "to get out of themselves".thinking about a reform "oriented towards a style of communion and collaboration, of encounter and closeness, of mercy and concern for the proclamation of the Gospel"..

The first part reiterates the "pastoral conversion" as a fundamental theme of the Church's evangelizing journey in these times, as Pope Francis has said, in order to prevent the spread of the newness of the Gospel to the ends of the earth from weakening or even dissolving.

The criterion is the mission

In this context, therefore, the role of the parish is central, called upon today to confront "increasing mobility and digital culture" that in the contemporary world "have dilated the confines of existence". Hence the urgency of "to involve all the People of God in the effort to welcome the invitation of the Spirit, to carry out processes of 'rejuvenation' of the face of the Church". The instruction therefore proposes "generate new signs", seeking other modes of search and proximity to current activities: "a challenge to be welcomed with enthusiasm".

The guiding criterion for renewal is therefore the mission, as explained in the fourth part of the Instruction, which is already to be understood as a "existential territory" rather than as a delimited geographic space (although at the canonical level the territorial principle of the parish remains in force) and should have an impact on "in the lives of concrete people", increasing "a network of fraternal relationships, projected towards the new forms of poverty". The document recognizes, in fact, that in the current period, often marked by closure, rejection and indifference, "the rediscovery of fraternity is fundamental, since evangelization is closely linked to the quality of human relationships". The same is true of compassion for the "wounded flesh" of the brothers.

Prior to any structural conversion, the following must be implemented "a change of mentality and an inner renewal." of the guides, the Document emphasizes in the sixth part, inviting to overcome both self-referential conceptions and pastoral clericalizations, ensuring that every baptized person "becomes an active protagonist of evangelization".

Gradual renewal process

Part seven goes into the details of the gradual process of renewing structures to revive evangelization and make pastoral care of the faithful more effective. - "in which the 'key factor' can only be proximity".-The report gives specific indications on how to regroup parishes, for example, on the responsibilities of the vicar forane, on the pastoral units and areas, etc. The ordinary and extraordinary forms of entrusting the pastoral care of each parish community (pastor, parish administrator, entrustment, etc.) are also reviewed. in solido various priests, parochial vicar, deacons, consecrated persons, lay people, etc.).

The last three parts of the document provide useful indications on the designation of the various assignments and "ministries" to be entrusted also to deacons, consecrated persons and lay people; on the various bodies of "ecclesial co-responsibility" (financial matters, pastoral council, etc.) and on the "offerings for the celebration of the Sacraments", an act which by its nature must be free, left to the conscience and ecclesial responsibility of the offerer. Here it is pointed out how the conscience of the faithful to contribute to the management of the "common house" will benefit from "virtuous" examples in the use of money by priests (sober lifestyle and without excesses, transparent management of parish goods, shared projects and linked to the real needs of the community ...).

Through these "operative brushstrokes", the Congregation, therefore, wanted to place once again at the center the role of the parish as the main place for the proclamation of the Gospel.

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