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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Archbishop Sample's Column
The larger Church

Most Rev. Alexander Sample
Archbishop of Portland

Most of us experience our lives as Catholics in our own parish community. This is where we hear the Word of God and celebrate the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. It is there where our children are baptized, receive their first Holy Communion and are confirmed. It is there that we also say goodbye to family members and dear friends in the rites of Christian burial.

This is as it should be. We should be deeply committed to our parish family, involved in the life of our community of faith, and supportive of the parish with our time, talent and treasure. Strong parishes make a strong Church.

Sometimes, however, we find it hard to see beyond the parish itself to the wider Church. For many of us, the Church is no bigger than the parish, and we might fail to recognize the needs of the larger Catholic community. We adopt a “congregational” way of thinking that sees our local parish as the end all of everything. We adopt what we call a very “parochial” way of looking at things. But we are Catholics, not congregationalists.

To be “Catholic” means that we see ourselves as part of a “universal” Church that extends far beyond the boundaries of just our own parish. We are also part of an archdiocesan Church and an international community of faith that extends to the far corners of the world. There are more than 1.2 billion Catholics around the globe. Our fellow Catholic in Africa or Asia, for example, is just as much our brother or sister in Christ as the one who sits next to us in the pew at Sunday Mass.

This broader sense of what it means to be a baptized member of the Church helps explain our commitment to assist the works and mission of the Church beyond our parish. We support, for example, the works of Catholic Relief Services which aids people in other parts of the country and the world, especially in moments of crisis or natural disaster. We support the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (the missions) because we want all people everywhere to hear and respond to the Good News. We support these things because we recognize our responsibility to the larger Church.

We also should come to recognize our shared commitment and responsibility for our local Church here in the Archdiocese of Portland in Western Oregon. We are not just a collection of individual parishes operating as sort of “branch offices” of the Church. We must appreciate the profound sense of communion and unity that we must have with each other and with our chief shepherd, the Archbishop. Together, and only together, we make up the presence of the Church in our part of the world.

As your Archbishop, I have ultimate responsibility for all the parishes, missions, schools and other institutions of the Archdiocese of Portland. I have a grave responsibility for the mission of the Church and many needs of the Church that transcend and go beyond the needs of an individual parish. It is a humbling responsibility that I do not take lightly.

Allow me to help you see some of these needs. We have to take care of the spiritual needs of our students at all the colleges and universities in western Oregon. We have to ensure that we have enough priests to serve the parishes of the Archdiocese. This means we have to recruit men for the priesthood and then financially support them through many years of education and formation. We have to ensure that solid and effective catechesis and faith formation is taking place in our Catholic schools and religious education programs for children, youth and adults.

There are special ministries that need to be coordinated and supported on an archdiocesan level, such as ministry to our Hispanic community, ministry to the deaf and those with disabilities, and special attention to youth ministry.

There is also the marriage tribunal, which assists people in reconciling their marriage situation with the hope of returning them to the sacraments. The work of the New Evangelization needs direction and support from an archdiocesan level.

On top of all this, there is a large effort that must be put forth to tend to all of the administrative, temporal and financial aspects of the life of the Church in Western Oregon, including the management and supervision of many properties and building projects.

This is just a significant sampling of the many ministries, works and needs of the Church that average parishioners might not think about as they go about enjoying life in their local parish community. But I must think about them every day and put my best effort forward to help shepherd and take care of all of these needs, with the help of a marvelous staff. These needs go beyond what a single parish can do by itself, but they are very much a vital part of the life of our local Church.

There are some other needs which must be met, but for which there is currently no funding. A very important one of these is support for marriage and family life. I plan to reestablish an office to support and form engaged couples, support married couples and give families all the help we can to live holy, happy and healthy lives.

The bottom line is that all of these needs of the local Church here in the Archdiocese of Portland which go beyond a parish’s individual mission require funding. That is what the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal is all about. I ask you with great humility to help me and your brothers and sisters in Christ to take care of all these pressing needs of the Church here in Western Oregon. I hope that each of you would be proud and happy to participate in any way, no matter how small, in this great work Jesus has given all of us to do together.

Please be as generous as you can. Each one of us has a collective responsibility to help further the mission of Jesus Christ and his Church. Wouldn’t 100 percent participation in the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal make a powerful statement about how important our faith is to us? Please join me in making that a reality!

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