Parishioners share views to start process
The listening sessions began nine months ago. More than 100 people came to St. Gerald Church in Omaha Feb. 1 to contribute their ideas to a process led by Archbishop George J. Lucas that culminated this month with a pastoral vision and priority plan that will guide the archdiocese for the next three to five years.
The pastoral vision is simple but profound, new but also hearkens back to the earliest days of the Catholic Church – and an understanding of it as one holy, Catholic and apostolic church.
The vision statement reads, "One church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy."
"In some ways, our challenges are very similar to the challenges faced by the first generation of Christians," including fewer cultural supports for living the Gospel today compared with a couple of generations ago, Archbishop Lucas said.
Amid those challenges is the common "call to discipleship, the act of sending out of disciples to bring the light of the Gospel to others," the archbishop said. "The challenges to unity but the desire to be one, with the diversity of gifts and diversity of cultures.
"The early church was known for the works of mercy and for being a place where you could receive forgiveness of sins and also where people would be treated with compassion and their human dignity would be respected," the archbishop said. "That was part of what distinguished the Christian community in the early days from others. And the Holy Spirit was very powerfully at work in all of that."
The Holy Spirit was at work in the current process, as well, the archbishop said.
In addition to St. Gerald, 90-minute sessions with small group discussions, spoken and written suggestions were held through March in O’Neill, Norfolk, Wayne, Columbus and three more times in the Omaha area.
The archbishop attended each session. He also took into account suggestions given in nine focus group sessions held in the spring, and formed and met seven times in full-day sessions with an 11-member "envisioning team" from April through September to fashion the pastoral vision, which is accompanied by three priorities and clear, actionable goals.
Made up of the archbishop and clergy, religious and laity from urban and rural areas, the envisioning team studied parishioners’ comments and prayed about their contents, using them and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to form the pastoral plan.
The three priorities encompassed in the vision statement are designed to keep Jesus at the center of all the archdiocese does, the archbishop said: creating a culture of encountering Jesus and equipping disciples, of enabling God’s mercy to be received and lived, and of unity.
Goals under each priority call for implementing strategies by 2018 or earlier, giving teams being formed by the archdiocese time to assess the current situation, invite new approaches and begin acting on them, the archbishop said.
In some respects, the process of establishing a pastoral vision began as far back as 2014, when Archbishop Lucas’ discussions about ministry with the Archdiocesan Council of Priests led to the idea of forming a mutually shared vision for Catholic life in the archdiocese.
And the listening process was similar to planning sessions that led to successful parish and school mergers in east Omaha, the Ignite the Faith capital campaign, a school and parish plan for growing areas of southwest and suburban Omaha, and in the next few years will be used across rural areas of the archdiocese.
Holding the listening sessions was an important way to stay close to people’s desires, the archbishop said.
"Really what we heard in the listening sessions was a desire for more. More in terms of faith, more in terms of belonging, more in terms of a way to reach others. And a desire for help and encouragement and a deeper experience of the faith," the archbishop said.
"I think we heard that clearly," he said. "And we find that is Jesus’ desire for us, too ... Life in Christ is the response to our deepest desire."
Pastoral Vision and Priorities
An insert in this issue of the Catholic Voice provides Archbishop George J. Lucas’ pastoral vision and priority plan, as developed from months of listening sessions, focus groups and an envisioning team of 11 people from around the archdiocese.
Based on the vision statement, "One church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, and living mercy," the vision includes three priorities accompanied by specific goals.
The ultimate purpose: Inspire every person in the Archdiocese of Omaha to live as a vibrant disciple of Jesus Christ, responding to their vocation of holiness, being sent out as leaven to transform the world, fulfilling their deepest human desire.