Cardinal sets out priorities for Westminster
posted on 09 February 2006
Reforms aimed at deepening communion will make Church ‘more vibrant’
The Archbishop of Westminster has announced five “pastoral priorities” for his Diocese in the coming years which aim at deepening the togetherness and unity of the Church while responding to social changes.
There are fewer priests than 20 years ago serving rising numbers in the Diocese’s churches, and Catholics are sometimes no longer concentrated in areas where churches were built.
“Communion and Mission: Pastoral Priorities for the Diocese of Westminster”, which was sent to Westminster’s parishes on Monday, sets out Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s response to the results of a three-year consultation with the people of the Diocese. It is available now to view and download at www.rcdow.org.uk.
The Cardinal told journalists invited for its launch at Archbishop’s House on Monday that he hoped it would meet “the needs of the Church in our Diocese but also the needs of the time.”
The consultation of the Diocese – a process known as “Graced by the Spirit” - was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s call in Novo Millennio Ineunte for each Diocese to plan for the future.
The consultation’s findings were summarised and analysed in a “Green Paper”, published in May last year (see at www.rcdow.org.uk/greenpaper.pdf). The “Green Paper” called for greater lay involvement in the life of parishes and a new emphasis on education and formation for adults.
“This is my response”, the Cardinal told the journalists as he held up the 26-page document.
“It’s not a theological vision,” he said. “It’s not a programme. It really is what it says: these are the pastoral priorities which I think are important for the Diocese in the years ahead.”
The five priorities are (1) call to holiness, prayer and Eucharist; (2) formation of adults and young people; (3) encouragement of small communities; (4) encouragement of priesthood and vocations; (5) structures for participation, change and accountability.
Communion and Mission pledges the Diocese to put in place courses and resources to improve liturgy, as well as programmes of formation to be attended by representatives of parishes.
The Cardinal said it was “tragic” that “a very large number of lay people have never really learnt about their faith ever since they left school”.
“It seems to me terribly important that many, many educated Catholic people know more about and learn more about their faith,” he said on Monday.
Communion and Mission also makes clear that the promotion of small faith communities will remain a diocesan priority.
The creation of small communities was a major plank of the diocesan “At Your Word, Lord” spiritual renewal programme: for two and a half years 20,000 Catholics across Westminster met in weekly faith-sharing groups, and continue to do so.
Communion and Mission describes these groups as “the ecclesiola – the gathering of the Church in embryo”.
It was vital for Christians to belong to forms of community other than the parish alone, the Cardinal told journalists.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult for any Christian to really be an active Christian without some kind of involvement with some kind of community. Not only the Eucharistic community on a Sunday but also some other form of community. That’s why the small communities are, I think, essential to the life of the Church.”
Communion and Mission calls for the appointment of vocations co-ordinators in each parish and the creation of parish councils or teams in each parish.
“The crisis today isn’t a crisis of number or if celibacy of people. It’s a crisis of faith really. And so a sense of vocation, deepening faith, is important,” the Cardinal said.
Behind his proposals, Cardinal went on, was “the underlying vision of the Second Vatican Council, which is communion.” He said the Church was “not only an institution” but also “a body formed by God’s actions in the world in Jesus Christ.” He quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est which describes the Church as “God’s family in the world.”
The Cardinal stressed that Westminster’s was only one of 22 diocesan planning processes in England and Wales but important because “it’s easily the largest diocese” and because “what happens here has a particular significance”.
Some 160,000 people attend weekly Masses in the diocese’s 216 parishes, which are served by 230 priests. The ratio of priests to people in Westminster is much lower than in the 1970s-80s, but still much higher than in most dioceses in western Europe. The number of practising Catholics is growing, bolstered by migrants.
The Cardinal said Westminster’s parishes were “full of people” and were “for the most part very dynamic”.
There was a “slight increase in the number of men offering themselves for priesthood”, he went on, adding that this year the largest number of new adult Catholics on record had forced Westminster Cathedral to schedule the “Rite of Election” over two Sundays.
The Rite of Election is a public ceremony in which candidates on the RCIA programme commit themselves to prepare for the sacraments of initiation at Easter.
The Cardinal said he wanted the Church in Westminster to be more vibrant “not only for the sake of the Church but for the sake of the society in which we live”.
He said a “vibrant faith community reveals to secular society what it is it needs”.
The contemporary focus on individual rights “can become selfish unless it actually reaches out to communion, to community,” the Cardinal said.
Faith was “rearing its head in all sorts of ways that haven’t been so true in England and Wales for perhaps some time”, he went on, adding that people were “losing their faith in no faith”.
“The Catholic Church in our country, is, in my view, increasingly relevant, increasingly important,” the Cardinal said.
‘Communion and Mission: Pastoral Priorities for the Diocese of Westminster’ can be downloaded from www.rcdow.org.uk/whitepaper, where people will also be able to send in comments/reactions.