Launching the pastoral year 2003-2004
Dear brothers and sisters in the diocese,
With the coming of the fall we begin a new year of pastoral activities. Although I have been among you since the summer of 2001, this is my first full official year with you as bishop in this loveable Church here in Gaspésie and the Magdalen Islands.
During the past two years, many among us have been able to meet a few times already. When you get this letter, I shall have visited almost every christian community at least once. Those visitations make me happy since I have met with the majority among you who are involved in a Church service : priests, deacons, pastoral agents, fabrique chairpersons and wardens. It has also been a pleasure to get in touch with all of you who bear some responsibility in your own community and have a heart for the vitality of our Church and its future.
I have seen a deep love for our Church but also heard some concerns, especially regarding its future. Questions like : How can we prepare future pastors? How shall we be able to upkeep our church buildings? How can we hand down our faith heritage and the Gospel values to the younger generations? Questions dealing with administration. Questions more on a pastoral tone.
Some steps have been made
I do not pretend to have solutions to all those questions we bear. But we have achieved something worthwhile. The conference we had on our religious patrimonial heritage in June 2002 pointed out the need to think of diversified usage of our church buildings jointly with external groups that are compatible with their communitarian religious vocation while they remain indicators of our identity and hope in that specific place. The revival of a new partnership between the parishes and diocese through the Collection held in the fall of 2002 has proved a success and a source of financial support that has contributed to the improvement of the financial situation of the diocese as well as of the sixty-five parishes. We must keep on moving in that direction. And we shall find other answers to our questions as we move on together in the same direction.
Last fall, at the launching the pastoral year and following the work done by the Diocesan pastoral council, we proclaimed a mission statement for our diocesan Church which was welcome as a fresh breath of hope and pride of what we are and want to be, that is : disciples of Jesus carrying out his mission in this part of our own country. This mission statement is now posted in a good number of our churches and is reaffirmend during our prayer meetings. This is how we want to be seen and understood in today’s world. With God’s help of course!
Some other steps remain to be done
This fall, we want to move ahead by giving official recognition to the pastoral document that was sent out for your consultation last year, Building communities of disciples in our midst. A document that presents a theological view of the Church and a structural pattern for our communities which will enable us to carry out, together and in the present times, Jesus’ mission in our midst.
Three key words underly this program : mission, community and synodality or shared responsibility. It is worthwhile to dig into the meaning of those words since they underlie the other considerations brought forward in this organizational model.
This first term implies that we are Jesus’ disciples, not only in view of our personal salvation, but because Jesus has asked us to do our share in revealing his Word as a source of courage and hope in life : God is our Father, Jesus is his messenger and our brother, we all are brothers and sisters and should, as such, lead a life that is coherent with those gifts. As was promised, we know that the Spirit is with us and shall «teach us everything we should say and do» (Mt 10 : 19-20; Jn 14 :26) in order to bear witness to our faith in a world in search of spiritual meaning.
In order to live out our mission, it is essential that each disciple be personally involved. Yet, collective witnessing also stands as a visible indication that the Gospel has a real influence in transforming the social milieu. That is why, in Jesus’ time as in the early Church days, the first disciples came together as a community of faith, prayer and charity. The peak moment of their togetherness was their gathering on Sundays, or the Day of the Lord.
Within the community, the first disciples did proclaim and study God’s Word, they came together for prayer and gave witness to the Risen Christ’s presence among them, lived up charity concretely as Jesus had taught them to do by showing concern for those in need among them and around them. Those are things we must rediscover and live out concretely in an ever renewed fashion if we are to sustain the vitality of our communities and thereby build their future.
We must consequently learn to set up new manners of exercising leadership in our local communities. As was done on the administrative level, some must accept to put their talents and time at the service of the community, at least for a time. Such group will act as the parish pastoral team. One member on this team will act as coordinator of the pastoral activities and as such will be called the parish delegate.
A community of Jesus’ disciples must never be shut in on itself. Already in the days of saint Paul, we see communities motivated by their faith operate as a network of communication and mutual help. In the present day situation, our communities must come together as a sector in order to act in solidarity and mutual sharing under the leadership of a common pastor. That is the role of the sector.
When placed in a larger network of sixty-five, our communities appear somewhat like grains of a long rosary that makes up the diocesan Church, along with the bishop, in his capacity as successor of the apostles, acting as its pastor.
In his role as first pastor of the diocese, the bishop, in the name of Jesus who is the sole real Pastor, strives to keep the diocean Church in the unity of the faith and of the great commandment of charity. As successor of one on the Apostles’ college, he must also entertain bonds of communion with the other bishops and with the Holy Father whose person symbolizes the visible unity of Jesus’ disciples. In this way we can affirm with truth that the Church, at every level of its being : sectors, diocese, country, universe, is always a community of communities of Jesus’ disciples.
Shared responsibility or synodality is truly fundamental in the way we make up the Church and lead it. We sometimes say that the Church is not a democracy. That is true in the sense that the Gospel truth cannot be redefined by a majority vote. But this does not mean either that the person who receives a mandate to exercise leadership can operate all by himself or herself and at one’s own whim. Jesus has entrusted the Church community to the College of the twelve Apostles, and has asked Peter to keep it unified. In concrete terms the Pope, still today, consults his collaborators regularly through councils, synods, and numerous other means. Similarly, the bishop does this at his own level : administration council, council of priests, diocesan pastoral council. The same kind of participation should be found in the parish as in the sector, which amounts to a real sharing of responsibility (synodality). Nobody can pretend to own the administrative or pastoral mission of a community, a committee, a specific activity. Synodality always means bearing responsibility together on account of our common faith and charity which gather us under the pastor’s staff.
As it appears from these reflections, it is on the foregoing three principles : mission, community, synodality, that the document Building communities of disciples in our midst rests. It is to be looked upon not primarily as a way of organizing the communities – which should take place little by little – but as an incentive to renew our mind and view of the Church’s life and mission.
Support, formation, walking with
To live up this Church reality, we realize that many among us, each one according to his/her personal gifts and availability, will have to become involved in some way. Many may say : I don’t know how to do this; who will teach me? Such question is being met, I think, since the main concern of our diocesan services will henceforth be to provide formation to all who wish to do something for their community. Already, someone is at work at the diocesan level to find formation programs that can be offered to all who assume some responsibility in our church. And the other diocesan personnel have been asked to be present as much as possible to the different sections of the diocese in order to offer assistance wherever it is needed. In addition, those will keep in touch in order to provide assistance to the parish pastoral teams and volunteers, through different channels like the telephone, fax, internet, «L’Église de Gaspé». On the sectors’ level, pastors and pastoral agents already fulfill that role in giving formation and support to all who are ready to take responsibility in their own community. The more volunteers grow in number, the more those mandated should provide this kind of support.
And the future? A dream !
What will the future of our Church be? Allow me to share my own dream with you. I dream of a Church in Gaspésie and the Islands where sixty-five communities bear witness to Jesus, where God’s Word is proclaimed and taught to groups of the faithful, where the Gospel is taught to the young and adults, each year. I dream of communities where the church bell calls people to come together for prayer every day. I dream of communities where concrete assistance is being offered to those who are afflicted, sick, in need of help, isolated on account of old age. And if some communities have become too small, it will have joined neighboring communities to share their means of sustaining the christian life.
I also dream of communities that are open to younger generations, making room for them, responding to their questions and real needs, and even accepting to be a bit disturbed in their routine – if that is the case – in order to make them feel at home! Some communities may even decide to go ahead by giving their youth roles on committees, teams or councils, by inviting them to prepare celebrations, organize activities and other forms of involvement.
Finally I dream of communities who are so concerned about their future that they will set up means of promoting the christian vocation. Communities that will dare repeat Jesus’ call to serve in one way or another. And like Jesus did, communities that may see in this or that person’s gifts the sign of a call to serve as pastoral agent, priest, deacon, religious, missionary.
In this first pastoral letter, I have shared to you my faith and my dreams. I have also shared some of my convictions regarding the vitality and future of our Church. I have shared my enthusiasm for the coming to life of a new face of the Church that will be more humble, weaker too, but a Church that is called to be more fraternal and a witness of those values Jesus has taught us when he told us that God loves us as a Father does, with the consequence that we are called upon to live as brothers and sisters sharing the same fullness of life.
My final wish is that, in each community, an increasing number of persons affirm their discipleship and offer some of their time and energy in commitments that contribute to make our Church more alive, significant, fraternal.
From the depth of my heart I ask the Lord to walk along with us on the road of our commitments and to grant us the fullness of his blessings.
† Jean Gagnon
Bishop of Gaspé
Gaspé, November 4, 2003