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Holy Spirit will continue to guide efforts in living our pastoral vision

Last winter, I began to invite Catholics from across the archdiocese to participate in listening sessions where they could share their experiences of living our faith and talk about hopes for the future of our life together in Christ. These sessions were structured so everyone could contribute, and I am grateful so many were able to attend. Several focus group meetings were then held in the spring to ensure that we were hearing from a representative cross-section of our people.

Throughout the summer months, I met with a group of 11 people who reflect the make-up of the archdiocese. We considered all of the input received in the listening sessions and focus groups. I appreciate the thoughtful and prayerful work of this envisioning team. We heard very clearly the hopes of our fellow Catholics for a more personal experience of the risen Jesus and for a better understanding of how to bring Jesus to others. We looked for guidance to the Scriptures and to the writings of recent popes, particularly Pope Francis.

The result of this process is a pastoral vision for the Archdiocese of Omaha I want to share with you now. It is meant to guide our life and work together in our parishes and apostolates during the next three to five years. While not a detailed blueprint, the vision does offer some important priorities to shape our pastoral efforts as well as some specific steps to enable us to realize the experience of life in Christ we believe the Holy Spirit is offering us at this time.

We might say that the purpose of the Archdiocese of Omaha is to be the living Body of Christ, in our time and place, welcoming and inspiring every person to live as a vibrant disciple of Jesus Christ. As his disciples, it is possible for us to respond to the vocation to holiness, be sent out as leaven to transform the world and to fulfill our deepest human desire. How do we imagine living, working, praying in the coming years to better fulfill this purpose? A pastoral vision will help us do that more faithfully.

The vision, based on listening, reflection and prayer can be stated clearly: One church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy.

It is my prayer this vision will become increasingly what characterizes our experience in the church in the coming years. It should also characterize how we are experienced by the world into which we are sent by the Lord.

This can be possible, I believe, if we give serious attention to three pastoral priorities that flow from the vision. Goals also have been set to help make the priorities more than wishful thinking. You can read more about the goals in the print and online material being published about the pastoral vision. These priorities and goals are meant to shape life in our parishes and apostolates for the coming years.

The first priority is to create a culture of encountering Jesus and equipping disciples. Pope Benedict XVI has said that the experience of encountering Jesus "gives new horizon and decisive direction to life." Another way of saying this is that a true encounter with the risen Jesus changes everything. It changes how we see ourselves, how we see the world around us and the direction we choose to take in life. We heard repeatedly in the listening sessions a desire to know his loving plan more fully.

We know Jesus shares this desire with us. From the beginning, he has called his disciples to be close to him, to know him personally and to be known by him. He then sends his disciples out, equipped with the Holy Spirit, to have an influence by their witness, to bring the hope of life in Jesus to as many people as possible. I would like Jesus’ plan for us as disciples to be at the center of Catholic life and action in our archdiocese.

The second priority is to create a culture which enables God’s mercy to be received and lived. As he announced the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis reminded us, "Mercy is the foundation of the church’s life." He is echoing the teaching of Jesus. It is not possible for us to be true disciples of Jesus if we are not open always to receive his mercy and always attentive to the needs of those who wait for mercy. It is my hope that we will establish opportunities in our parishes and communities where we can both experience the mercy of Jesus and share that gift in a personal way.

We are not starting from scratch, of course. But this essential attribute of the church can be highlighted as we become intentional disciples. I hope that increasingly, when people hear "Catholic" they think "mercy."

The third pastoral priority is to create a culture of unity. This can be a little more elusive, and in some manner will be the fruit of focus on discipleship and mercy. In various ways in the listening sessions, we heard a desire to belong, in a culture where we too often seem to be divided and at odds with each other. A hope was also expressed that others be able to belong, too, grandchildren and neighbors, for example.

In our archdiocese, the Catholic Church is diverse. We vary by age, by geography, by language and by experience. The will of Jesus is that we be one in him. This does not mean a bland uniformity or a worldly celebration of diversity for its own sake. The Holy Spirit is providing gifts for the good of us all. Our pastors and lay leaders need to be formed to help order these gifts to the service of our common pastoral vision.

Jesus Christ is unique in all of human history. He is risen from the dead and alive in the church. He wishes to draw us close, so we can put our faith in him. He asks us to share the joy of the Gospel with as many as we can. Our contemporary challenges are not so different from those faced by the first generation of Christians. They brought a fresh vision of new life to their societies. Our pastoral vision is both ancient and new.

Please join me in asking the help of the Holy Spirit in realizing this vision, so we might have life in Christ and proclaim life for the world.

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