By Rayanne Bennett | Associate Publisher
and Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent
The season of Advent, a time of prayerful reflection and preparation, has provided an ideal setting for the period of consultation that Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is conducting on the recommendations issued in October by the Diocesan Planning Commission.
The Bishop held a series of meetings throughout early December with different consultative bodies, as well as with priests in each of the counties Dec. 12-16. In each of these meetings, the recommendations, intended to equip parishes to meet their current challenges and those they will face in the coming decade, were reviewed and discussed.
The result of the yearlong Faith in Our Future planning process, the recommendations were formed by the DPC after several rounds of discussions at the parish and Cohort (groups of parishes) levels and will involve pastoral planning measures to strengthen parishes moving forward. Among the options reflected in the recommendations are parish merger, linkage, in solidum team leadership, personal parish designation and collaboration.
The Bishop will continue consulting with other groups and diocesan leaders as he works toward making his final decisions early in the New Year. He is expected to announce his decisions Jan. 25.
Speaking to more than 30 Burlington County priests Dec. 13 in a meeting space of Sacred Heart Church, Riverton, Bishop O’Connell said, “The future is coming, whether we have faith or not. We are here today to discuss the things that we hope will benefit you and your parish communities and review the recommended changes that will help them to deepen and strengthen their faith so that church participation and vocations will continue to grow. And this, in turn, challenges us to draw upon our own faith to move us in the right direction.”
Faith in Our Future is “a spiritual movement about Our Lord, one that will help us evangelize well and comprehensively,” he told the Burlington County priests, but one that “carries the responsibility to look at the recommendations . . . with faith in what has yet to be realized.”
At each of the county-based priest meetings, the Bishop delineated some of the many challenges facing today’s Church, including the decline n attendance and participation in the Sacraments – such as Baptism, Marriage and funerals – the shrinking enrollment at Catholic schools, and the drop in the number of vocations to the priesthood, which is compounded by the number of priests set to retire in the next 10 years.
“While some numbers are good,” he said, “they are not enough to offset the cultural and societal shifts taking place. People want to go where the homilies are good, the music is good, and the community is good. We face a difficult reality, and either we manage the change, or it’s going to manage us.”
The other county meetings were held in the parishes of St. Anselm, Wayside; St. Pius X, Forked River, and Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony, Hamilton.
Bishop O’Connell reported to The Monitor that the feedback from the priests was generally very positive at these meetings. While there were some concerns that it might take a while for parish communities to get used to any forthcoming changes, the climate appeared to be one of agreement on most or all of the recommendations made for each of the cohorts across the four counties.
To learn more about the Faith in Our Future process, go to dioceseoftrenton.org/faithinourfuture/.