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The five traits of an Evangelizing Parish

Far from being a place where people can hide and live comfortably, the parish is a Eucharistic community that is called to “launch into the deep” because it is, “by nature,” missionary, as the first Christians were. It is called to be open to the surrounding community, to those who have not received the Good News, says Cardinal Francis Arinze, former Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in his new book The Evangelizing Parish (Ignatius Press).

Ahead of his presentation on the book at the John Paul II Lecture Series in Denver Nov. 6, here are five essential qualities that he says make up an Evangelizing Parish.

All of its ‘major actors’ cooperate

Cardinal Arinze assures that in an evangelizing parish, the chief actors of the parish community are active in their own respective ways: the parish priest, other priests, religious brothers and sisters, the lay faithful, ecclesial movements, Catholic associations and small communities.

Other than being an administrator of the goods of the parish, the pastor acts as the extension of the bishop, the cardinal says, and “should have a deep experience of the living Christ and be priest with a burning missionary spirit in going in search of the lost sheep.” He should also be distinguished for his “sound doctrine” and “integrity of morals.” Pastors should strive to live in fraternity with other priests and welcome the charisms of the religious brothers and sisters, who “can be of great help in the parish witness of Christ.”

The lay faithful make up 99.9 percent of the Church worldwide and share in the evangelizing activity by cooperating in inner-Church affairs and in the secular order. “Their activity is so necessary within the Church communities that without it, the apostolate of the pastor is often unable to achieve its full effectiveness,” the cardinal writes. Their participation in the parish ranges from forming or partaking in faith formation programs to serving the poor and helping in parish building projects. Called to evangelize the temporal order, they are to bring the spirit of Christ beyond the parish, to the family, workplace and even politics.

It teaches the faith

An evangelizing parish is a place where its members are nourished. With cooperation of other priests, religious, or the laity, the parish priest has the duty of teaching and preaching God’s word to the parish community, “so that, rooted in faith, hope and charity, they will grow in Christ, and as a Christian community bear witness to that charity which the Lord commended,” Cardinal Arinze writes, quoting the Second Vatican Council.

“Sacred Scripture has a key and honored place in the imparting of the Christina doctrine,” he says. And assures that all ordinary activities, communities and movements should be examined in its light, “’to see if they are truly concerned with fostering a personal encounter with Christ, who gives himself to us in his word.’” The Catechism of the Catholic Church also has an honored place, for it allows priests and catechists to give genuine religious instruction to the people in our time.

Moreover, the priest should see the homily as a “major area of responsibility” in which he beautifully presents the liturgical texts. The cardinal urges that homilies not be too long and strive to cover most areas of the Catholic faith over a period of about three years.

It prays

“Effective witness to Christ is not an exercise to be achieved by mere human effort,” Cardinal Arinze states. “Prayer and Christian life are inseparable.” The Holy Eucharist occupies a central place in this regard because from it, “as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God… is achieved in the most efficacious way possible.” For this reason, the parish priest must foster great reverence for it. “The way in which the priest celebrates Mass becomes, in a sense, a homily without words because it manifests his faith… and influences the congregation,” he says. While the Lord’s day is “the major weekly event at which the parish community gathers before the Lord,” the priest is to see that Mass is celebrated daily and promote that it also be reverenced outside of the celebration of Mass.

The other sacraments also have their importance in the life of evangelization of the parish, the Cardinal says. The required preparation for some sacraments provides an opportunity to help children and parents develop a relationship with Christ.

Moreover, besides promoting devotional groups of prayer, the parish community must work to teach its members the value and practice of personal prayer.

It opens out

Far from settling down to a type of “business as usual” method, “a parish is expected to look out in a dynamic way for what it can do for Christ,” the cardinal writes. There are in most parishes people who have not yet been reached with the Good News, lapsed Catholics and people who are poor and sick, he says. This going forth “can disturb one’s personal comfort,” but “readiness to make sacrifices for the Kingdom of Christ is part of what is required of the evangelizer.” Since a parish community is to be “permanently in a state of mission,” it must always reach out, “as it should, to everyone living within the parish boundaries.”

The parish community should seek to enter into dialogue with non-Catholics, non-believers or non-Christians, in the light of proposing the Gospel of Christ. The parish should also reach out to the poor in the community or worldwide. Cardinal Arinze quotes Pope Francis’ warning to parishes who remain comfortable without helping the poor, saying that such community “will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.” The priest and community should also seek to accompany the sick or the homebound through personal visitations.

The cardinal further warns about the danger of “departing” the secular culture to form a secluded “Christian society,” for such action would contradict the apostolate specific to the laity to evangelize the secular sphere. Instead, he calls for hope and patience: “No matter the initial difficulties, the seed… will eventually sprout from the local ground… When Jesus sent his first disciples to evangelize the world, there were no Christian communities. The challenges posed by society were formidable. But the disciples did not quit.”

It fosters special apostolates

Among the many aspects of an evangelizing parish that Cardinal Arinze spells out, he also chooses to give attention to special parish apostolates that help the aforementioned characteristics take place. Among these are the apostolates to the family, to young people, to the education of children, to elderly citizens and to devotional groups.

In these, he highlights the importance of helping families pray together, educating their children in the use of social media, fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life and forming groups according to professions that help the faithful be witnesses to Christ in their work.

John Paul II Lecture Series

Tuesday, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m.
1300 S. Steele St., Denver
Space is limited; RSVP at archden.org/lecture

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez
Vladimir is the editor of El Pueblo Católico and a contributing writer for Denver Catholic.
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