November 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 4

Following In The Footsteps Of Christ

By The Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Bishop Of Bridgeport

Photo of footprints in the sandIn his 2001 Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte ("At the Beginning of the New Millennium"), Pope John Paul II cautioned against certain approaches to pastoral planning. Surveying the difficulties facing the Church, the late pontiff observed, "We are certainly not seduced by the na´ve expectation that, faced with the challenges of our times, we shall find some magic formula." He added, "It is not just a matter of inventing a 'new program.' The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition . . . [a plan which] has its center in Christ Himself " (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29). And just recently Pope Benedict XVI also warned against developing pastoral plans without deep roots: "Renewal of a parish does not depend on a beautiful pastoral plan but on its members' encounter with Christ, especially in the Eucharist" (Address to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, September 22, 2006).

"So, Bishop, why would you oversee the development of a pastoral plan for evangelization?" some may ask of me. "Aren't you falling into the very trap two successive Holy Fathers warned against?"

This is a serious question to which I have given much prayer and reflection. And my response comes from the witness of faith given by the priests, deacons, laity, and religious who were deeply involved in developing the new diocesan pastoral plan, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, which we are launching this weekend.

For the origin of this plan was listening - listening to the Lord in prayer; listening to priests and deacons who spoke of the joys, challenges, and obstacles to evangelizing in their parish communities; listening to directors of religious education, catechists, youth leaders, Catholic school principals, and teachers who shared their passion for sharing their faith; listening to the members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, territorial vicars, and the focus groups who refined the plan as it took shape.

What all these members of the diocese shared in listening sessions and working sessions held throughout Fairfield County was their love for Christ, their desire to share His life, truth, and love with others, their love for the Church, the Mass, and the sacraments, and their determination to serve those in need, spiritually and materially. Participants in these sessions shared best practices, resources, solutions to difficulties, and, yes, frustrations. All this was the matrix for our pastoral plan for evangelization.

As a result, the plan that took shape is clearly centered on Christ and the Eucharist, and is solidly based on the three pillars of the Church's mission: to proclaim the Gospel, to celebrate the Sacraments; and to serve in love (see Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 25). And flowing from the Church's essential mission, five overarching pastoral priorities were identified in the various listening sessions:

As you can see on our special Pastoral Plan website (www.footstepsofchrist.org), several goals were identified for each of these pastoral priorities. Complementary diocesan, parish, and Catholic school strategies were then proposed as ways to achieve those goals.

All 87 parishes of the diocese - parishes that are very diverse - are now being asked to implement at least one strategy per year in each of the five pastoral priorities, strategies judged most suitable to their situation, and to do this for the next five years. As the plan unfolds, we will share with one another how, through faith, prayer, and concerted action, evangelization is advancing in our parishes - not only large, impressive programs, but also small steps that can have large consequences in people's lives.

In my view, all this corresponds well to what John Paul II further wrote with regard to pastoral planning: "With its universal and indispensable provisions, the Gospel must continue to take root, as it has always done, in the life of the Church everywhere. It is in the local churches (dioceses) that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified - goals and methods, formation and enrichment of the people involved, the search for necessary resources - which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and decisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear on society and culture" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29).

This passage aptly sums up what the pastoral plan, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, seeks to do. It is a practical way of advancing and growing the mission of Christ in Fairfield County over the next five years. But this plan will not work automatically. Rather, as we prepare to implement this plan, the Holy Spirit asks for and inspires in us personal qualities of heart, mind, and spirit that we must have in order to be agents of evangelization:

An ever deeper life of daily prayer centered in the Sunday Eucharist

Such qualities, and others like them, given us by the Holy Spirit, resemble the "glue" that will hold this pastoral plan together and make it pleasing and fruitful in God's eyes. And there is plenty of "glue" in our midst!

Last Sunday, Larry Kudlow of CNBC's Kudlow and Company addressed business leaders in Fairfield County. Speaking in a very personal vein, he told how Christ and the Church had deeply transformed his life and how he endeavors, in a very public role, to make the moral teaching of the Gospel the foundation of his daily life. You could hear a pin drop! Mr. Kudlow was not just teaching; he was bearing witness. No one who heard him speak could walk away unaffected.

This is an example of we all need to do as we enter upon this pastoral plan - so that we may unite, amid all the complexities of our lives, in following the footsteps of Christ!