It is common knowledge that we are living at a time when the Church is calling for a "pastoral and missionary conversion, which cannot leave things as they are."and in which "we are no longer served by a 'simple administration'". (Evangelii Gaudium, 25). Faced with the challenge of moving from a maintenance Church to a missionary Church, initiatives and methodologies are emerging that help the baptized to respond to the challenge of putting the whole Church in a state of mission. But how many of them are oriented to the person of priests?
This is precisely what is proposed in the course Gregis Christi Shepherdswhich seeks to respond to the call to pastoral conversion of the Church starting from the pastor, who is the head and guide of the parish community.
Inspired by an initiative that emerged in 2014 in France in which more than 700 priests and several bishops have already participated, this methodology gives priests the opportunity to make a personal journey that will in turn trigger a community process of pastoral conversion for their entire parish. In the words of its creators, "it is about starting the task of parish renewal in the person of the pastor, who by his vocation is called to guide (and therefore lead) the people of God".
As the Canadian P. James Mallon -author of the best-selling book A divine renewal the priest leaves the seminary very well prepared as a theologian and trained to impart the sacraments, but many times there is not enough emphasis on either preaching or pastoral governance. Recovering the balance in this triple function of the pastor (priest, prophet and king), which is often overshadowed by a myriad of administrative responsibilities that are not even those proper to his mission, is at the core of the pastoral proposal of this course.
The basics of the course
Gregis Christi Shepherds is based on the biblical foundations of the mission and growth of the Church, as well as on the documents of the Magisterium on evangelization, governance and the role of priests and laity. It is also supported by pastoral studies on the conditions of fruitfulness of parishes and Christian communities (such as A divine renewal James Mallon, The reconstruction of a parish Michael White, La conversion pastorale pour la nouvelle évangélisation and The Church in Heaven. The foundations of the new evangelization. Mario Saint-Pierre).
The most novel aspect of this course is its eminently practical orientation, since it combines biblical-pastoral principles with elements from the social sciences and the professional world of human resources, also providing tools for personal accompaniment.
To speak of leadership may sound strange to our ecclesial culture, which often looks with suspicion at the secular, but the pastor is called to be a guide and therefore, as a representation of Christ the head, to lead the people of God. Like Moses when he judged the people of Israel, he often feels exhausted and overwhelmed by the burden, and needs a Jethro to make him see the need to delegate what can be delegated and to teach him practical ways to do so.
It is a matter of making the flock grow and rediscovering that evangelization is the task and co-responsibility of all the baptized, and a Church in mission necessarily has to grow in maturity and responsibility.
How is the course structured?
It consists of four sessions (modules) that are taught over six months, in which priests set aside two and a half days to work in groups of up to twenty participants, accompanied by a team of professionals and facilitators. As a culmination, once the personal part is finished, there is a pastoral weekend in which each parish priest is invited to come with a team from his parish to launch the process of pastoral conversion of his community.
The first module starts from the vocation and personal call of each priest, and applies the principle of leading oneself in order to lead others.
The second module deals with the vision for mission. As Fr. Mario Saint-Pierre - a well-known expert in the new evangelization in France - explains, the pastoral vision is born from the mission entrusted by the Church, the vision of the pastor and the cry of the people of God.
The third module deals with how to create a team of missionary disciples with which to pilot pastoral transformation for mission.
The fourth module focuses on tools for managing change to make it sustainable. It is about discovering the milestones in the process of moving from maintenance to mission, without dying in the attempt.
These are four very simple steps, in which priests learn to know themselves better, to know their team and to lead the necessary change in any community that wants "not to leave things as they are".
But it is not as easy as it looks on paper. One of the most profound keys of the course is accompaniment. Many times the parish priest carries out his pastoral work in solitude, and the first step to overcome it is to be able to share a path of personal renewal with other brothers in the ministry who are carrying out the experience. In addition, tools are used to coachingThe methodology is very popular nowadays, to help them in the whole process. The coaching does not seek to create dependencies - it has a beginning and an end in time - but to teach a style, produce a change and provide tools to be able to live personal and community transformation in a sustainable way.
The team that teaches the course is composed of pastoral experts, professionals trained in leadership and human relations, as well as coaches certificates, accompanied by a chaplain. The profiles of the team that teaches it are very varied and its richness is that they are lay people working in the field of psychology, human relations and the pastoral care of new evangelization. In France, it arose from the initiative of Alpha France and an association of coaches Catholics, and likewise in Spain, the initiative is delivered at the national level by the team of Alpha Spain with a team of professional Christian collaborators.
It is important to note that the course does not intend to impose a pastoral vision or a specific spirituality. It is about each pastor being able to formulate his vision within the framework of the mission given to him by his diocese, in the concrete reality of his parish. That is why people from different spiritualities collaborate in the team, with the common denominator of giving the best of their knowledge for the service of the Church.
The objective of its promoters is to be able to reach all priests who wish to deepen their ministry in order to carry out the pastoral conversion that the Church is asking for at this time, and does not intend to be more than a complement to deepen the already rich priestly formation.
In Spain, courses have been held in Catalonia by the Autem association, and sessions have been given in Navarra at the request of the diocese. At present it is being developed by Alpha Spain at national level, with participants coming from various dioceses throughout the country.