Why start a Parish Mission?
Over the past few Parish Assemblies, even from the time before I came here to the parish, the parishioners were asking for some form of renewal in the parish, reviving the faith and the life of the parish, and how parishioners on the whole could be helped to live their Christian lives at the level of family, community, parish; how to really move this parish to become a vibrant, witnessing community.
So those were the cries, the sounds coming from the several Parish Assemblies that were being held.
When I came to the parish, I heard these cries, but I wasn’t ready to do anything yet because I just wanted to spend some time looking around, getting a feel of the ground and the parishioners, and also to pray and discern what to do.
And so after moments of observing and soaking the situation in, with the help of the other two priests of the parish, we discussed among ourselves, and with the PPC, if this would be a good idea - to have a Parish Mission whereby the parishioners would be visited at home and we would get a chance to meet the people, be with the people, listen to the people, respond to what the people are saying. And at the same time, give them the opportunity to experience a Mission that was, in the old days, quite a common thing in many, many parishes.
It would also be a good opportunity for us to update the census of the parish.
Why is there a focus on building NCCs?
Catholic life is not about joining Ministries. Catholic life is about living in community and responding to the needs of the community, so that’s where you do your ministry.
See, many people think: To be a good Catholic, I have to join a church organisation, a parish organisation, and this is not really true! To be a good Catholic, I’ve got to be in the community in which I live - that’s there I am living, that’s where I’m growing, that’s where I go to work from and come back to, that’s where I live with my neighbours so I’m open not only to Catholics but also non-Catholics, so that’s where I can live the missionary dimension of the Church, that’s where we can put into effect really how the early Christian community lived as described in Acts 2: 42-47, that’s where we can make this kind of community life be ours in Holy Family Parish.
So Catholic life is not just about joining a church organisation. Many people think that since they belong to this group of either lectors, or ministers of hospitality, or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, or they sing in the choir for Mass, they think they have done their Christian duty. No! all those are liturgical services to which parishioners contribute for the betterment of the community at worship, to make the sacred liturgy more meaningful and beautiful to praise God. But we were not baptised to sing in the choir or to collect money during Mass… We were baptised to witness to Jesus in the world in which we live in the family, at the workplace, and that’s where we have got to go - beyond a parish organisation - into the reality of the world in which we live. And that’s where the NCC really comes alive. Because within and from the NCC comes all these actions we can take as a community to reach out to one another and the community and the world at large. So the ideal would be that the NCCs take responsibility for the life and needs of the community, be those needs liturgical, catechetical, familial, social…
The community has many needs. One is liturgical where we worship the Lord… How can we improve our liturgy? We need altar boys, ministers of Holy Communion, hospitality, we need people to read... different things to make the worship beautiful. So the NCC takes responsibility for that because it’s their worship, it’s their life.
At the moment, what’s happening in almost every parish is that all this is centralised. So when you look at the centralisation, there are just a few people who are involved. When you look at the size, the demographics, the statistics… A parish is made up of X thousand people, whatever parish it is, what is the percentage of people involved really in the life of that parish? Maybe 10 to 15 per cent. They are the members in various parish organisations… some people are in two, three organisations. So 85 to 90 per cent of parishioners are not in any church group. But they are at Mass every Sunday.
How do you make parishioners see that Catholic life is not just about rituals? And Catholic life is not just about belonging to a church group?
It’s about how we help form our parishioners to realise that Catholic life is living in, and out of, our NCCs. Community life is central to Jesus and his Church. How do we help one another live through the various moments and circumstances of life? How do we help one another in family life, to be better spouses, parents, siblings, to be better neighbours and friends, to be better employers and employees and fellow workers, brothers and sisters to our fellow men and women especially the elderly, the poor and needy?
Christian Community living is an opportunity for parishioners to share and discover. In the business world, they call it “best practices”. So here is a time for us to come together and share with one another our “best practices” in the way of being true disciples of Jesus at home, at work and in the neighbourhood, community and society in general.
How has the Parish Mission helped?
Through the Home Visits and the weekly Friday Masses, the Parish Mission has helped in letting people know there are other people in their community that they didn’t know of before. During the Home Visits and the weekly Friday Masses, we had the opportunity to share with our parishioners this dream of ours to build this kind of Christian community at the neighbourhood level that would really be like the early Christian communities, living the way of Jesus and making an impact in the world for the betterment of themselves and the world in which they live.
There seemed to be some excitement, particularly at the weekly Mass gathering and sharing, when parishioners saw there were so many other parishioners in their neighbourhood… and when they gathered together after the Mass for the fellowship, there was a lot of connecting going on. In that way, many parishioners got excited and are seeing the possibility of creating a more relevant and meaningful way of being Holy Family Parish.
So what now?
What we want to do now is to strike while the iron is hot by calling a Parish Assembly.
The Parish Mission was really to a great extent coming from the ground. You will remember that it was discussed and approved of at the Parish Assembly last year.
We have collected and collated all the feedback from our parishioners in the course of the Parish Mission, and we want to present all the feedback to our parishioners at this Parish Assembly.
I hope that the parishioners at this Parish Assembly will decide on the areas we need to work on together as we strive to build our Parish into a loving and caring community united in Faith, Love and Service.
We need to get the cooperation and collaboration of our parishioners because the priests of the parish cannot build the parish on their own.
What’s your hope for the post-Mission period?
After the Mission, we need to keep on discerning how to help our people come to realise what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the world today.
This will be the big challenge after the Mission - how to revive, how to renew, how to reform, how to put in place ongoing formation... the challenge is to remain true and relevant.
Basically the Christian community must take responsibility for itself and see what are its needs and how they can respond.
But it’s hard today because we are living in a world that is very self-centred and selfish. Everybody is running around trying to catch his own tail… So we’re just running around in circles, thinking we are doing a good job, and getting tired and frustrated and pressured and cynical sometimes… some people even say it’s no use praying, nothing is changing. Of course nothing is changing! Because we are not making the change! The change must be to move from a selfish and self-centred way of living to a communitarian and other-centred way of living.
What is this “dream community” we are trying to build like?
According to Acts 2:42-47, the Christian community was an experience where everybody was welcome and nobody was left out, where everyone helped each other grow in faith, where everyone enjoyed the Eucharist together and prayed together, where everyone enjoyed each other’s company in a spirit of fellowship, where everyone cared for everyone and was ready to share whatever with anyone in need. In this process nobody was left behind because while everyone was giving to the other, the other was receiving from the one giving.
That’s the idea that we can live that way of loving and caring…
Are you hopeful that Holy Family can do this?
I am hopeful but cautious, because a lot of people are coming out of past hurts and past bad experiences in the effort of building community. We regularly face this kind of comment: “I went for a particular gathering and somebody there said something and I got very offended and that was the last time I went for a gathering. Now you talk to me about this kind of project, I say, I’ve had enough of this. They talk rubbish, they talk things that hurt, they insult…”
In the process of building community, you have no choice but to go through these kinds of experiences and we must have the maturity to go beyond. But the problem is the healing of past memories, of bad experiences that are very real.
And also how the community is willing to learn from these bad experiences of the past to make sure they don’t happen again. Sometimes the bad experiences happen because of a lack of understanding of what a community is to do. But all past bad experiences can be a meaningful learning curve for us to develop and even more loving community.
For example, from the perspective of family life, we don’t want our family to have that kind of experience where the members are saying, “Enough! I’ve had enough of you!” We don’t want our family to be broken, isn’t it? That would be the dream.
So while it is true, there are examples of dysfunctional families, we don’t want our family to be like that. So what do we do? We take the necessary steps to make sure that our family is not dysfunctional, isn’t it?
That’s what we at Holy Family Parish will have to do.
But people are never going to all agree…
There’s never going to be a moment where everybody is going to think alike and nobody will have an opinion different from yours.
So part of community building is to see that having another opinion is not an opposition to your opinion. It’s another element, another bit of treasure, that there is possibly another way of doing, or another way of looking, or another way of saying or stating… There is another way! It doesn’t necessarily mean there is an opposing way... But we’ve got to be open to one another, be prayerfully discerning, and continuously make Jesus and his way our point of reference and the basis of our decision.
So building Christian community involves conviction, perseverance and time. It involves giving parishioners space, it involves allowing parishioners to think to reflect, to have meaningful experiences, and even to move from an ugly experience to a better experience, an opportunity to forgive, an opportunity to reconcile, an opportunity to grow the way of the Gospel, and opportunity to be humble in service.
Humble is to be ready to look at the situation in another way - a way in which I could reach out to more meaningfully even though I’m hurt, even though I’m wounded. That was the humility of Jesus. He would be ready to go through insults and mockery for the good of the people. It didn’t stop him from laying down his life for them.
“Today, I’m not laying down my life for you because a few days ago you made fun of me, you insulted me, you hurt me. You said those things now I don’t want to talk to you.”
Jesus never did that. That’s where we need to grow.
What do you think we as a parish will have to do now?
The parishioners and priests will have to consider together all the opportunities that are available. And that’s why in the Mission we asked: What are your ideas on how the parish can be built up? The second question was how can the Parish help you achieve this?
It’s a partnership. We both have a role. And that’s the beauty of Church.
Were there any visits you made during the Mission that struck you?
All the visits struck me in the sense that the people were very warm and welcoming and appreciative of the visit and the opportunity to be affirmed and also to realise, eh, their contribution is important.
Another thing that struck me was the number of people who have been trying to do this work but have had bad experiences, who have got hurt along the way... So a big question in my mind is really what to do to bring healing in the community.
I think we just need to appeal to people to let bygones be bygones and see how we can move forward. But that’s easier said than done. I think one way would be to listen to the people…
But what struck me in the Mission was really the readiness of the people to belong to Holy Family and to move forward. Although there were a lot of “buts” because of past bad experiences, the people said we must do something… that to me was very encouraging.
Was it a time of renewal for you as well?
Yes, it was very nice for me to visit the people, really to be with them because that is what a pastor should be doing.
I would say that is the way to go forward. I would like to spend more time with the NCCs and the parishioners in their homes.
Pope Francis is urging us priests: “Get out! Smell like the sheep.”
The Parish Mission has left me wondering how I could do this more: “smell like the sheep”!