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Parish groupings announced as “Journey of Faith” set to begin kickoff meetings around archdiocese

The Archdiocese of Omaha is taking the next step on its “Journey of Faith” as it plans for the future and a new reality of parish life.

This planning process, which began late last year, aims to address the imbalances that currently exist because of declining numbers of priests, falling participation in the faith by Catholics, and shifting population trends in both rural and urban areas.

It involves realigning parishes into groupings, or families, of parishes that collaborate and share resources, in order to support the archdiocese’s goal of helping every parish become a “missional community,” capable of spreading the Good News of Jesus.

“We have a call to action to become more missional, more outward looking,” said Phil Lasala, director of Pastoral Planning for the archdiocese.

“As we look at our structures and the way our resources are aligned, we just want to make sure they’re aligned properly for the world we find ourselves in today.”

PARISH FAMILIES ANNOUNCED

As the next step in the planning process, the archdiocese has released its list of parish families to pastors in advance of a series of kickoff meetings as parishes begin to discuss and plan for how they will implement the changes.

“During the kickoff meetings, pastors and parish leaders will receive the information they need to undertake the Journey of Faith in their area,” said Archbishop George J. Lucas. “We will review past trends and future projections, and we will review the possibilities for parish structures and governance.”

At the heart of the Journey of Faith effort is the question of how to serve the needs of the Catholic faithful and further the mission considering the projected decline in the numbers of priests.

“Our priests are men of God, they have a servant’s heart, and they give and give and continue to give,” Lasala said. “But, in a lot of cases, we’re reaching a point where our priests are giving in a way that’s difficult to sustain in a healthy way.

“We need our priests to be flourishing in order for our mission to be flourishing,” he said.

MODELS OF COLLABORATION

Beginning with the semi-annual Clergy Conference in February, the archdiocese has been preparing initial models of collaboration and proposed parish families.

In all, the archdiocese’s 134 current parishes and missions are to be grouped into 22 urban and 12 rural families of parishes, generally including from two to 12 parishes, with some families including from one to five schools.

The listing of parish/school families should be posted on the Journey of Faith website, journeyoffaith.org, shortly after Easter.

To begin the process of planning and collaboration within these families, seven kickoff meetings are planned around the archdiocese, April 20 through May 4. Dates, times and locations can also be found on the Journey of Faith website.

With a goal of gaining the active participation of the laity, pastors are identifying leaders from each parish to accompany them to these meetings to begin the planning process and help pastors communicate developments to parishioners.

PLANNING PARAMETERS

To create a sustainable model of parish life aligning available priests with the needs of the faithful, several planning parameters have been established, including:

  • People generally should not need to travel more than 20 miles for Sunday Mass.
  • As part of a standard, six-day workweek, priests should celebrate no more than four Sunday obligation Masses at up to two locations or three Masses at up to three locations. They also should celebrate no more than two weekday Masses per day. 
  • Priests assigned to rural areas will be assigned in groups of two or more, with one pastor and one or more associate pastors.

Additional parameters are spelled out in the planning document to be reviewed during the kickoff meetings. They include guidelines for priests’ essential duties, parish staffing, and parish and school governance.

During the kickoff meetings, Lasala said he wants participants to “develop a shared understanding of what we’re doing and why, how the planning process will unfold, and what their role as parish leadership representatives will be in that process.”

After the kickoff meetings, pastors will assemble family pastoral planning teams within their parish families, which will create and submit to Archbishop Lucas a written Family Pastoral Planning Proposal by Nov. 15. The archbishop will review and approve the plans by year end, with implementation to begin in 2023.

Lasala added that everyone can help by praying for a successful outcome and that God’s will be done.

“The Lord has a message of hope for us,” he said. “The Lord has a plan for us, and we know that it’s a good and true and beautiful plan.”

“I believe that the Lord is offering us a renewed experience of faith and of parish life,” said Archbishop Lucas. “We are encouraged to believe that Jesus wants us to change for the better and that he is walking with us as we face present challenges and future possibilities.

“I anticipate that families of parishes will experience an abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we call for great cooperation and support from one another,” he said.