I came across an abbreviated report of a conference held in Rome at the end of January and beginning of February. Given the findings of the recent Pew Foundation report on the number of former Catholics in this country, it seems like a timely article. Here's the majority of the short article:
If a parish does not evangelize, it is nothing more than a building, said a Vatican official, who offered four practical steps for transforming a parish into a missionary center.
Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, affirmed this at the end of January at a conference in Rome on "The Parish and the New Evangelization."
"Why should a parish be missionary," Archbishop Ranjith asked.
He explained that God's call of love mandates a missionary character for Christians: "Jesus loved his brothers and sisters to the extent that he was dedicated totally to their salvation -- this is the basis of evangelization."
The archbishop, who led the Diocese of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, before being named to the Roman Curia, called evangelization a "sign of the maturity of our faith."
"The Church exists only if it evangelizes, and the same is true for the parish. If a parish does not evangelize, it is only a building," he said. “Evangelization is not a matter of free choice. It is an obligation of our faith, the perfect expression of our charity."
Archbishop Ranjith highlighted the importance of the Eucharist for a parish focused on the mission.
"The Eucharist is at the center of evangelization," the archbishop affirmed. "The Eucharist must generate faith. In some parishes it is celebrated in such a manner that it does not generate faith."
The 60-year-old prelate also focused on the role of parish priests. He said that priests should understand their role by saying, "'I am useless by myself but useful in his hands.'"
Archbishop Ranjith also contended that parishes should not focus on their community alone, but "make a determined effort to reach the lost ones."
He offered some "practical steps" for giving parishes a missionary character.
"The parish community must move away from a maintenance model to a missionary model -- if the only thing we do is repair the buildings, this will kill us spiritually," the archbishop said.
Secondly, he continued, parishes need "to move away from a spirit of pessimism to a spirit of optimism." And he noted the danger of becoming the Gospel's example of a "lazy servant."
The third practical step dealt with the role of laypeople. Archbishop Ranjith encouraged priests who still think the “mission is the sole responsibility of clerics," and that "priests should decide everything by themselves" to "share with the laity."
“Each layperson is a potential missionary," he affirmed.
The fourth step was related to the third. The archbishop encouraged involving as many people as possible: "associations, groups, men, women, youth and even children -- and be courageous to go into uncharted areas, look for new methods and means."