Parishes need new missionary mindset, say bishops

November 25, 2013

MEXICO CITY - Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa recalled once having a parish that needed a new furnace and was considering hiring a youth pastor.

The parishioners raised $90,000 in three weeks for the furnace, but failed to find funds for the youth pastor, figuring there were few young people to serve.

Prendergast cited the story as an example of "the maintenance model of the Church versus a missionary model of the Church."

It's a model that has been deployed by too many dioceses in Canada and the United States and one that some senior clergy recognize as doing nothing to bring new people to the Church.

Pope Francis wants that to change and has called on Catholics to adopt a more audacious, missionary mindset.

But several Canadian and U.S. Church leaders at a Mexico City conference on the new evangelization said that means a new mindset in countries where people are becoming "consumers of religion" and fail to make mission a priority.

"Our job in parishes and dioceses is not just to take care of the people we've got, but to welcome back those who have left and to invite new ones," Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told Catholic News Service.

Dolan's observations reflect those of Pope Francis, who previously told his priests to get out of their parishes and take the Gospel to the most marginalized members of their communities.

The pope also admonished them to reject a "functional" approach, saying it would leave "no room for mystery" and reduce the Church to little more than a nongovernmental organization.

The shape of the Church emerging in Canada has been discouraging at times for Prendergast, who said he sees too many people attending church services in times of need, but not embracing Church life.

"People are conflicted: They don't want to go to church, but they want it to be open, in case they need it. In effect, they're consumers of religion," said Prendergast, a Jesuit.

Another reality he recognizes is that the concept of bearing witness is foreign to many Catholics and seen as something exclusive to evangelicals.

"To say, 'You need to witness,' (Catholics will respond,) 'How do I do this? I don't know that,'" he said.

Some say the new evangelization requires a change of style, not Church principles.

"The Church wins members, not through proselytism, but through attraction. The personality of Jesus is what attracts," said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.