The great American parishes and what we can perhaps learn from them

William E. Simon's recent book, translated into Spanish, presents the experience of four pastoral practices that can help revitalize parishes from "maintenance" parishes to truly evangelizing parishes.

Jaime Nubiola-June 6, 2019-Reading time: 4 minutes

-Text Manuel García de Quesada and Jaime Nubiola

An excellent Spanish translation of the book by William E. Simon Jr. has just been published a few months ago by the Facultad de Teología San Vicente Ferrer de Valencia and the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos. Great Catholic Parishes: A Living Mosaic. How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive (2016). The book is titled Great Catholic parishes. Four pastoral practices that revitalize themhas been translated by Félix Menéndez Díaz and includes an excellent Presentation of the Spanish edition by José Santiago Pons, professor of philosophy at the Valencian Faculty, which allows us to take charge with certain precision of the scope and limits of this volume.

The book is preceded by a Foreword by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, and consists of a Preface by William E. Simon, an introduction (Why the parish? Why these parishes?Shared leadership; 2. Spiritual maturity and discipleship; 3. Sunday Celebration; and 4. "From these four practices" -explains Pons (pp. xv-xvi)- "the book is structured in eight chapters, dedicating two chapters to each one. The first chapter describes the corresponding practice and shows the various possibilities of carrying it out, exposing a great wealth of initiatives and variety of parishes. The second chapter highlights the problems that can arise, the difficulties and challenges that must be faced in the development of each practice.". Pons adds with finesse: "This double look gives the book a great sense of reality because it does not hide the problems involved in carrying out a major transformation in a parish, while showing the great variety of possibilities that open up according to the uniqueness of each parish." (p. xvi).

The book was born out of a suggestion by Bob Buford, a Protestant Texan businessman who sold his company to devote himself to "working for the Kingdom" and created an organization called Leadership Network to revitalize Protestant parishes. In a meeting with William Simon, he proposed to him to do something similar for Catholic parishes. Thus was born Parish Catalyst ( The first step was to contact the most outstanding parishes and study the causes of their "success". A survey was prepared and sent to 244 parish priests. The chapters of the book are based on the analysis of the results obtained.

– Supernatural Introduction (pp. 3-21) is very interesting. It briefly recounts the history of Catholicism in the United States and also the reason for the great social influence of the 17,000 Catholic parishes. "Right now millions of Americans are members of Catholic parishes, but this is not going to be the case forever. The current trend indicates that over the next few decades they are going to leave in moderate but steady numbers. They will only stay if they are given a reason to do so, if there is something vibrant and life-giving in their parish, something that focuses their attention on the living Christ, with such power that they cannot take their eyes off Him." (pp. 3-4).

Four pastoral practices:

Shared leadership (pp. 25-73): it is the ability of the parish priests to lead the parish as a whole and for this it is decisive to count on the laity: there begins an organizational structure and the distribution of functions in each parish area. All this requires a special competence of these lay people and salaries accordingly. It also has its difficulties: team harmony is essential.

Spiritual maturity and discipleship planning (pp. 77-128): This is the "process by which individuals or parishes deepen their faith, draw closer to Jesus and bring him closer to other people, as their own faith matures.". It also requires specialized personnel to give catechesis, promote activities, attend to the people, etc. Emphasis is placed on prayer, Eucharistic adoration and community unity.

-Sunday celebration (pp. 131-177): The center must be the Mass. It is intended to be the decisive moment of the week, a moment of hospitality, and one that will make both parishioners and those passing through faithful:"It should be noted that in Los Angeles one can find Masses in 42 different languages and dialects.". Moral and social sensitivity is also part of the welcome to fit everyone, and another important element is the attention of children in their different ages. Singing is fundamental. Many parishes have almost professional choirs. There must also be adequate public address systems. A lot of time, equipment and money must be invested to provide good liturgical music.interesting things are said about the homily: "Every minute of homily takes an hour of preparation." (p. 150).

-Evangelization (pp. 179-227): Supported by Pope Francis' words to "go out to the peripheries," it is noted that Catholics are not accustomed to. evangelize: "We can no longer just leave the lights on for people, we have to bring the light to them.". You are invited to move from the maintenance to the mission. We have to change our attitude. It is a matter of involving everyone in this task. We must take advantage of every moment to evangelize: celebrations of the sacraments, events and social services.

This brief summary does not, of course, do justice to this volume which, although it is very American and very much in keeping with its own mentality, can make everyone in the Spanish-speaking world think about the need for a new evangelization and persuaded that, with God's help, parishes are one of the key places to carry it out.

To continue reading:

Great Catholic parishes. A living mosaic. Four pastoral practices that revitalize them

William E. Simon, Jr.

242 pages

BAC - St. Vincent Ferrer School of Theology, 2018

A divine renewal. From a maintenance parish to a missionary parish.

James Mallon

367 pages

BAC, 2017

New evangelization from the parishes?

Vidal-Ruiz-Pons, eds.

447 pages

San Vicente Ferrer School of Theology, Valencia 2018

Photo: Akira Hojo/ Unsplash

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