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Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Rediscovering parish boundaries

When you meet a fellow Catholic, the question oftentimes asked is, “What parish do you attend?” Over the past year, every parish in the archdiocese has been involved in an evaluation and planning process to determine, among other things, how people answer that very question and to help me decide how to best align our resources with our needs.

As you can imagine, with 114 territorial parishes, this is a very large and complex project. Working with the pastors of the archdiocese, we are engaged in systematically reviewing and, where advisable, making changes to parish boundaries to reflect the real scope of their ministry. Once these changes have been determined, they will be officially decreed, printed in the Denver Catholic and published on its website (www.denvercatholic.org).

I am aware that many of you are not familiar with the idea that each parish has boundaries. Typically, they are drawn along roads or using landmarks. The purpose of these boundaries is to establish a spiritual home for the Catholic faithful living in a particular area and to indicate to the parish’s pastor the people for whom he is responsible.

The concept of parish boundaries is obviously easier to understand and adhere to in areas where natural boundaries, such as great distances, exist. In cities, where many parishes are easily accessible, the idea of boundaries is less definite. While proximity to their home is usually a key factor, people choose a parish for a variety of reasons. It is sometimes a reality that the parish within whose boundaries people reside is not technically the closest parish to their home.

As we make known the new boundaries, many of you will discover that you are members of a parish but live outside of its boundaries. Thus, as your shepherd, I would like to give you the following pastoral guidance.

  • Parish boundaries are relevant from an administrative point of view. Not only are parishes planned in such a manner that they provide a church for people living in the area, they also help determine which priests are responsible for the pastoral ministry needs of hospitals, nursing homes, religious institutes, etc.
  • It is my intention that you will try, in good faith, to attend the parish within whose boundaries you reside.
  • If you choose otherwise, I ask that you have an honest reason for doing so and that you commit yourself to being a faithful parishioner wherever you go.
  • I discourage the practice of “parish hopping,” which is often done to find a Mass time that “fits in” with one’s weekend plans. Mass is not something that we “get out of the way.” Sunday Mass is to be the focal point of our weekend. Setting aside time to worship the Father in the one Sacrifice of Christ with fellow believers, which he gave us as a final gift before his death and resurrection, helps us to live as his faithful sons and daughters and feeds our souls to help us keep God’s greatest commandment to love him with our whole being and to serve others as he did.
  • Parishes should be communities where people generously give of their time, skills, and resources, building up the kingdom of God among us. Achieving this requires committed parishioners who are not routinely attending different parishes.
  • The practice of seeking out, or following a favorite priest can also be a pitfall. While I understand the desire to enjoy Mass, hear a good homily, and be among friends, the central focus of our faith is the Eucharist, not the personality of a priest. We participate in the Eucharist to join our lives to Jesus Christ and offer ourselves to the Father with him. If we are to be faithful for our entire lives, then our faith must be founded on our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, living in the heart of the Trinity and nourishing this relationship through his sacraments.

As we work through this important process, I ask that you take the opportunity to pray for your parish, your pastor and priests, all of those living within your parish’s boundaries and the whole archdiocese.

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With a renewed awareness of our parishes and neighborhoods, we should recall the parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan who cared for the man he found beaten on the side of the road. “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” Jesus asked the lawyer who had questioned who his neighbor was.  The lawyer answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him and to us, “Go and do likewise” (cf. Luke 10:36-37). Let us pray for our parishes and our neighbors in this Year of Mercy.

For more information visit www.ArchDen.org/Boundaries 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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