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What kind of parish renewal?

It is not easy to find parish communities bursting with life, in step with the contemporary church, where people feel fulfilled and experience the growth of a church and society imbued with the gospel, and where you can see the phenomenon of the early days of Christianity, “Every day new members were added to their number” (cf Acts 2:47).

There are many reasons for this, and they vary in different parts of the world, according to cultures, societies and religious sensitivities. Given the limits of this journal, I do not intend to analyse these, or pretend to offer general or complete remedies. I am however convinced that the articles presented here, based on experience, are a contribution to a reflection and a praxis which can renew this important reality of the Church.

Our first article, in the section usually devoted to the “magisterium”, where we reproduce brief texts that set the tone for the whole issue, will probably surprise some readers. The present Pope’s intellectual and cultural stature are well known. The text that we use, however, is taken from one of his conversations with diocesan priests (from Albano in the Castelli Romani area of Italy) and has practical advice that could only come from the heart of a great and clear headed “pastor”, someone who well knows the situation of the church in today’s world. We follow on using the themes that he outlines, because they speak for themselves. They can offer important advice – even an “examination of conscience” – for our readers who are parish priests.

The message from Chiara Lubich that follows immediately was addressed to members of Focolare involved in parish communities all over the world. It was her last one before going to Heaven, and is a summary of some of the aspects of her charism which have enormous innovative possibilities, and respond to the deepest needs of humanity in our times.

The spiritual stimuli for pastoral renewal require a strong theological foundation, if they are to be biblically sound. In his article, Hubertus Blaumeiser shows that a proper renewal of parish life depends on the ecclesiology that inspires it. Parishes are among the best “barometers” of the state of the church, and of the ecclesial models that we see in them. For this reason it is important that parishes allow themselves to be inspired principally by the model of the church as communion. This model, affirmed by the extraordinary Synod of bishops in 1985, was the central idea of Vatican II, and contains the DNA for generating “Trinitarian” communities, which can become increasingly vibrant and attractive, and a leaven for a new civilization.

Parishes, needless to say, are not the complete reality of the Church, and are not its only outlet for pastoral work. They are however, local manifestations of the Family of God that constitutes the whole extent of the Church in the world. The re-awakening of parish life has a lot to do with a renewal of Christianity. This is something implied by the key ideas briefly described in the interview with Don Adolfo Raggio, who was responsible for several decades for the Focolare’s parish and diocesan movements.

The articles that follow are experiences that illustrate some important aspects of parish life today: the conditions which enable the discernment of God’s plan by the community; the marks of communion which can enable parish Councils, the structures of participation and co responsibility proposed by Vatican II, to be effective and productive; the need for the parish to be fully part of its social and cultural context.

There are also experiences that highlight the importance of fraternal love in social and church renewal. This is an aspect that may seem unimportant from a superficial and remote standpoint, but agapic love, which this article deals with, is the inner life of God, and therefore the heart of the gospel message and the ultimate meaning of our existence. These experiences, therefore, with their very practical nature, demonstrate an enhancement of human life and make Christian communities more convincing and contagious. We are not dealing with simplistic ideas, but ideas that have the fascinating and revolutionary simplicity and depth of the gospel. As one elderly priest said when he encountered this way of life, these are “simple ideas with manifold effects”.

Chiara Lubich often said, “nothing is small that is done out of love”. On that basis we ought to add that these experiences are also important for the fact that we cannot love in big ways that affect human history if we are not practised in doing so in every circumstance and every moment of our lives.

That helps us to see that even the most remote parishes, in distant locations or hostile environments, while being poor and limited in front of the complexity and vastness of the problems of humankind, can understand the truth of the reality so close to Pope Ratzinger’s heart, “We must agree with Toynbee, that the destiny of a society always depends on a creative minorities. Christian believers ought to see themselves as a creative minority”.

E. C.

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