Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
As Father Bill Holtzinger of Grants Pass listens, Alma Rosa Alvarez of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish makes a point during discussions at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Assembly.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
As Father Bill Holtzinger of Grants Pass listens, Alma Rosa Alvarez of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish makes a point during discussions at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Assembly.
Archbishop John G. Vlazny, known for an amiable nature and a resounding laugh, on Saturday told western Oregon Catholics to set their joy loose.

"All those frowning, serious Catholics intent on straightening all of us out won't be very effective in carrying out the works of the New Evangelization," said the archbishop, speaking to 300 parish leaders at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Assembly. "Ultimately, our church is about a yes, not a no."

Theme for the gathering was “Setting Faith Afire,” taken from the words of Jesus in Luke 12:49: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.”

During one prayer, the assembly sought "a willingness to live and proclaim the Good News of Jesus."

"How can we set Oregon on fire for God? How do we set ourselves on fire?" asked Clint Bentz, outgoing president of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, which leads the triennial gathering.

The assembly gave input on potential pastoral priorities for the archdiocese. The new council will discuss and discern, handing on recommendations to the new archbishop when he arrives. Possibilities include improving access to resources for outlying and smaller parishes, ministering to youth and young adults, reaching out to inactive Catholics, strengthening Catholic identity, sharing of best practices at parishes, enhancing communications and the use of media and technology, fostering social justice and cultural diversity and supporting family life.

Archbishop Vlanzy opened the assembly with a hope that the weekend would send people back reignited in their faith and fired up to serve and evangelize.

In what was likely his last address to the body as spiritual leader of western Oregon Catholics, he sought a way forward as a follow-up to his 15 years of ministry focused on inviting people into relationship with Jesus.

"You can't go make disciples unless you come to Jesus first," the soon-to-be retired archbishop told parish leaders. "We serve not a something, but a someone."

What's new about Catholicism's New Evangelization is that it applies to believers as well as non-believers. The church, the archbishop said, is now hoping to reach those for whom "the salt of belief has lost its flavor and the light of faith has grown dim."

Archbishop Vlazny said too many believers have an "inadequate grasp" of the beauty and power of faith, and so lose it easily.

There are 400,000 people in western Oregon who identify themselves as Catholics. About 100,000 attend weekend Masses.

"Secularization has invaded almost every aspect of daily life," the archbishop said. Modern media and culture, he added, have fostered "superficiality and selfishness."

The best response, he explained, is to follow Pope Benedict's advice and start with finding common ground with those in and out of the church, all of whom are seekers like us.

Archbishop Vlazny said his chief pastoral goal is to have someone who now lives in western Oregon be named a saint. "I think an Oregon saint would confound all the media analysts," he said, sparking a big laugh and applause.

The archbishop reported good progress, but more work to do, on all three pastoral priorities set down in 2003: faith formation at all levels, youth and young adult ministry and an embrace of cultural diversity. A bankruptcy of more than two years, brought on by clergy sex abuse suits, slowed but did not halt efforts, he said.

The number of seminarians has surged under his tenure, with 42 now in formation.   

In the past few years, the archbishop has worked to unify Catholics who focus on ending abortion with those who give energies to other causes of justice and peace. He blended the offices of pro-life activities and justice and peace, explaining that both are founded on respect for the dignity of life and the option for the poor.

Keynoter Kate Barrett, who coordinates Year of Faith efforts at the University of Notre Dame, said the year proclaimed by Pope Benedict "gives us the opportunity to refocus and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ.” Just like any other long-time relationship, she said, when you put work into rekindling that relationship, it strengthens the bond. Everyone should pray for that kind of relationship with God, she said. “We know he is waiting with open arms to welcome us back.”

Barrett explained the many ways she and her colleagues are encouraging students to celebrate the Year of Faith, like designating November as time for “sacred places.” Students are asked to reserve time every day for reflection and prayer in a place that is sacred to them.

The assembly drew participants from 95 parishes.

Assembly members — pastoral council leaders and priests from all over western Oregon — discussed what is needed at their parishes.
Kathy Sabel of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Portland hopes worshipers from different Masses can get to know each other and act as a single dynamic community. Sabel was elected to the new Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.

Father Mark Gikenyi, administrator of St. Cyril Parish in Wilsonville, would like to see increased outreach to the sick and the poor.

Dennis Freiburg of St. Francis Parish in Sherwood advocates establishing strong unity and vision. "I want to see us integrate our ministries into something we can light on fire," Freiburg said.

Eileen Goodwin of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego says she wants to see young people fall in love with the church she loves so much.

Father Mike Walker of Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Central Point suggested that parishes design their welcome to be of interest to "anyone who is a seeker." The welcome offered by the assembly and the liturgical music are two main factors for why visitors return to the parish, Father Walker said.  

Stephanie Sanders of St. Edward Parish in Lebanon said that a little effort in child and youth ministry can be  fruitful. Sanders reported that the number of youths active in her parish's religious education classes has jumped from 30 to 200 in three years.

Msgr. Chuck Lienert, a retired pastor and archdiocesan official, gave a presentation on the Second Vatican Council, which opened 50 years ago. Vatican II, he said, began like the pastoral assembly — seeking input on pastoral needs from all kinds of people and regions.

Vatican II would emphasize the idea of the church as the People of God, not erasing hierarchical structure but adding to it. Today's church representative groups like the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council owe their existence to Vatican II, Msgr. Lienert explained. The council fathers saw consultation and consensus as "a way to fulfill the evangelizing role of the church."   

Like Vatican II, local councils should produce a vision, Msgr. Lienert concluded. Then the councils can evaluate, seeing what worked and what didn't.