The fifth Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly took place the weekend of Nov. 16-17 at St. Pius X Church here in Portland.  The theme of the Assembly was “Setting Faith Afire!”  The good news is that this dramatic goal was achieved.  Participants left the assembly greatly renewed in their own relationship with the Lord and committed to the goal that there will be no mere afterglow to this Assembly but rather a flaming fervor of evangelizing fire across western Oregon in the coming years.

Ever since the year 2000, pastors with representatives from the parish pastoral councils have gathered with the members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and me to recommit themselves to our church’s evangelizing mission, to review our pastoral priorities and/or establish new ones and to choose members for the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council for the subsequent three years.   I am extremely grateful to Todd Cooper and his wonderful collaborators who planned and carried off this Assembly.  The members of the outgoing Archdiocesan Pastoral Council assumed leadership for this initiative and they ended their service with kudos from one and all.  Mr. Clint Bentz, the Chairman of the Council, set the tone when he asked the Assembly, “How can we set Oregon on fire for God?  How do we set ourselves on fire?”  

Some 300 people from 95 parishes had registered for the Assembly.  It turned out that 275 folks from 90 parishes showed up.  I was quite pleased with the turnout and grateful that it was not the Saturday of the Civil War!  I am concerned about parishes that weren’t represented and even more so about parishes that still don’t have parish pastoral councils.  It is the policy of the archdiocese that parishioners should work with pastors in determining the practical pastoral goals for the church’s evangelizing mission in their parish.  Without a council I fear that it is only leadership that makes those decisions and this is not the spirit of collaboration called for by the Second Vatican Council.  I am reasonably confident that all of our parishes celebrate Sunday Mass.  I am hoping that one day all of our parishes will find parishioners working together to address the evangelizing needs and dreams of their communities.

The keynote address at the Assembly was delivered by Kate Barrett, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Ministry, at the University of Notre Dame.  Her husband, Matt, teaches at ND and together they are raising four children.  Her faith was certainly afire in sharing her message.  She spoke about the marvelous opportunity we have during this “Year of Faith” to spark our evangelizing mission of proclaiming the good news and calling people to conversion.  I marveled at some of the initiatives she had undertaken with her colleagues at Notre Dame to address this invitation from Pope Benedict.  I thought to myself how fortunate the students on that campus must be where they have people like Kate walking with them on their journey of faith and offering them some practical guides and inspiration in their efforts to draw closer to Jesus and one another in the church.

Msgr. Chuck Lienert spoke about the work of strengthening pastoral councils.  He laid the groundwork by sharing with us what happened fifty years ago at the Second Vatican Council.  The challenge back then was the same as many of us still face today, namely, attentive listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the whole church and not only through its leaders.  Obviously leaders need to lead.  But they do a much better job after they have listened to those whom they have been called to serve.  We pastors certainly have a right to dream our dreams and see what we can do about implementing them, but the people have that right as well.

The participants all got to work through small group gatherings, usually at the vicariate level.  It was our hope that the participants would offer suggestions for future pastoral priorities and also get to know one another well enough so that they could choose wisely in recommending people for appointment to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council from their regions.  As it turned out, 13 regional representatives were successfully elected that day.  I shall be appointing three additional lay members, together with two religious women, a deacon and two priests.  The Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council has already recommended that I appoint Father John Henderson and Father Bill Moisant.  They have accepted.  By the time you read this I hope the others will also have accepted and been appointed.  The first meeting of the new Pastoral Council will be on January 19, 2013.

For several years now the pastoral priorities of the archdiocese, in terms of its evangelizing mission, have been faith formation at all levels, greater outreach to youth and young adults, expansion of services to our growing multicultural church, particularly our Hispanic sisters and brothers.  On my own part, I told the Assembly that I have also worked to address the need for vocations to the ordained ministry and consecrated life, to promote a greater awareness of stewardship as the flipside of evangelization in order to support the various ministries and services that our church tries to provide, and to unify the church’s justice initiatives by bringing together our advocacy for the protection of all human life with our good works on behalf of the poor and needy, whatever the need may be.  

The Assembly discussed several items of interest to themselves that should be considered by the new Pastoral Council, if it should so choose to establish new priorities.  The top priorities of the Assembly, not necessarily what will become the top priorities recommended by the new Pastoral Council, were determined by votes from 153 folks who provided input on this matter.  The participants made these particular recommendations:  1)outreach to inactive/broken Catholics – 86,  2)strengthening Catholic identities/faith – 77,  3) youth and young adults – 76,  4)communication/technology/media – 59,  5) social justice and cultural diversity – 58,  6)accessibility of resources for outlying and smaller parishes – 39, 7)communication: inter/extra; archdiocese – vicariate – parish – 33,  8)annual sharing of best practices – 19,  9)family life – 13.  There were others but these were the top vote-getters.

I look forward to gathering with the new Pastoral Council and I hope that together we shall be able to move forward in serving some of these priorities more effectively in the next three years.  These, of course, are priorities for the archdiocese.  Parish pastoral councils need to make some determination about their own pastoral priorities, which could differ from those of the archdiocese.  But obviously, if archdiocesan pastoral priorities are going to make any difference, parishes have to buy in.  If faith will be set on fire across the archdiocese, then we’ll have to see some smoke coming from the individual parishes.

May God bless our efforts in the coming year and may these beautiful and prayerful days of Advent lead us to a renewed faith among ourselves and a more effective outreach to those whose baptismal flame of faith needs to be stirred up by the strong winds of our own great love for Jesus and his church.