We Can Still Be an Anchor 

“As pastor of a parish in North City, one of the concerns frequently expressed to me by North City Catholics is that of outreach to the larger community. What will happen if parishes merge and some locations are no longer worship sites? Will our neighborhoods go into decline without the very real anchor our parishes provide to each area?

These are serious concerns and I’ve asked myself the same questions. What gives me hope is that we are a Church that takes Vatican II seriously. We are committed to connecting with the larger world; we do not wait for those in need of spiritual or material assistance to come to us. Throughout North City we find Catholics who are involved in community organizations, who advocate for justice and are willing to collaborate with non-Catholics in bringing that justice about. Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity put it this way: “Catholics should cooperate with all men and women of good will to promote whatever is true, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovable (cf. Phil. 4:8). They should hold discussions with them, excel them in prudence and courtesy, and initiate research on social and public practices which should be improved in line with the spirit of the Gospel” (14). Historically, North City Catholics have taken up this invitation with great resolve. The Civil Rights movement itself led Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers, to join hands to bring about social change. Those hands are still joined.

That’s why I believe that even if we have fewer parishes with larger boundaries, we will still be able to carry out the mission of the Church throughout North City. All Things New may result in some of our parish properties being reallocated for other purposes. At my own parish, one building is currently rented by Crisis Nursery, which provides emergency assistance and self-referred full-time childcare to families in crisis. Assisi House has offered to purchase our rectory and convert it to long-term housing for men recovering from addiction. Should it come to pass that our campus is no longer a “Catholic” site, it can still be an anchor in the neighborhood. What’s more, if we take the mission of the Church seriously, we will volunteer our time and treasure in these new outreaches. In doing so, wherever we are, the Church will be present even if the buildings themselves are re-purposed.

Pope Francis says that churches that do not have an outreach, that do not evangelize should call themselves museums. At the present time our parishes have a vibrant outreach and are anything but museums. Given our aging population, however, if we do not join to form new parishes, the day may come when most of our energy and resources will be dedicated to shoring up buildings that we cannot afford to maintain. At that point, we could easily become museums despite our best intentions.

Ministering in North City has given me not only a deeper faith in God, but it has also given me a deeper faith in the People of God. I have every confidence that the North City Catholic community and, indeed, the people of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis will step up and make the difficult but life-giving transition to new parish and school configurations. If we do, we will discover we are even better equipped to live out the vision of Vatican II, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself.”

All Things New is an initiative that will evaluate the effectiveness of the Church in St. Louis in proclaiming the Gospel and will identify opportunities for improvement and renewal within all parishes, schools and curia offices and agencies. When we become better stewards of God’s gifts, we can improve our social outreach efforts with help from people like those who live in North St. Louis City.

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