As a Church we are living the Advent Season and preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. In the Diocese of St. Petersburg, we are also preparing for the future of the Catholic Church in West Central Florida.
December 6 was day one of the Visioning Process that Bishop Gregory Parkes has initiated to develop a mutually-shared vision for the Diocese of St. Petersburg that includes identifying priorities to be addressed over the next three years. (Learn more here.)
Fifteen people from a variety of backgrounds and from a cross-section of the Diocese gathered with Bishop Parkes for a day-long session at the Pastoral Center, located in St. Petersburg.
Leading the meeting was Barbara Eckert, a facilitator with Catholic Leadership Institute, a non-profit organization that helps Catholics around the country to improve pastoral practices.
“I am excited to start this process. This is one of the initiatives I wanted to begin during my first year. I think it’s important to engage in this process in conjunction with our 50th anniversary. It seems an opportune time to share with our faithful, our priests, and parishes where we are going as a Diocese. While we will refer to data points during our discussions, this is a spiritual process. Everything we do is framed and grounded in prayer with openness to the Holy Spirit,” said Bishop Parkes during his opening remarks.
Sources of Inspiration
One of the major topics discussed during the first session is the principle of alignment and how a mutually-shared vision at both the diocesan and parish levels is needed to support the vision of the universal Church.
The vision that will be established in the Diocese of St. Petersburg will seek to be in alignment with our pope, our bishop and the people of God. Therefore, the team will be referencing the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. Another source of inspiration will be the installation homily of Bishop Parkes which focused on missionary discipleship.
The voices of the faithful will be heard through the results of the listening sessions and surveys that were completed earlier this year. Also, the team will reflect on insights from various other sources, including the Encuentro Process which documented encounters with people who are disengaged from the Church.
The team reflected on two Scripture passages to also listen to the voice of God. They pondered the message of John 2:1-11, which describes the wedding feast at Cana when Jesus listened to the request of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and turned water into wine, after which his disciples began to believe in Him.
The team also reflected on the Scripture passage from Luke 6:47-48 where Jesus said that someone who listens to Him is like someone who builds a house on a strong foundation, which is not shaken.
Times Have Changed
Eckert also provided startling statistics about the U.S. Catholic landscape, describing societal changes that are affecting the life of the Church.
“As you think about what your priorities and goals are, we can’t forget that this is not the Church of the 1950s,” said Eckert.
One of the major changes in our society is the growing use of smart phones and mobile devices and the ability to instantly access information which can consume much of a person’s time and attention. She also pointed out changing demographics that have affected parish life.
Eckert said the population of Catholics under the age of 30 is only 17 percent. But the number of people under the age of 30 who have no religious affiliation is 36 percent. The U.S. Church has also seen dramatic declines in the reception of the Sacraments. Also, more than one-third of all Catholics are Hispanic/Latino yet only three percent of priests identify as Hispanic or Latino.
The other daunting statistic she shared is that only 17 percent of Catholics nationally participate in the celebration of Mass every Sunday.
To better understand the local landscape, Eckert also shared a summary of responses provided during the listening sessions that Bishop Parkes conducted during his first 100 days as Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
There were common themes discovered in the data such as the need to more effectively reach youth, young adults and families, and a greater need for outreach and evangelization.
The team will meet again on January 4.