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CURRENT ISSUE:  October 8, 2007
VOL. 45, NO. 17   •   Oakland, CA

New pastoral plan takes shape

Diocese to focus on actions
to enhance faith development,
youth, sacramental renewal

What does it take to build a vibrant Catholic diocese?

For Oakland, the answer includes five areas highlighted in a new four-year pastoral plan — adult faith formation, sacramental renewal, pastoral leadership, youth and young adults, and stewardship.

The pastoral plan calls for engaging young people in all aspects of Church life. Chris duffey PHOTO
Janet Cooke, chair of the Diocesan Pastoral Council’s task force which crafted the plan, said there are dozens of other areas that could bear looking into “because while he was on earth, Jesus gave us an awfully lot of work to do.” But, she added, “I think he expects us to prioritize.”

Groups of pastors, parish council members, parish staffs, parishioners, and diocesan staff joined the prioritizing process earlier this year. Their actions came in response to an agreement by both the Presbyteral Council and Diocesan Pastoral Council that the diocese’s 13-year-old strategic plan needed updating.

To initiate the revision process, the two Councils went to the grass roots for their input and ideas. Parishes were asked to send representatives to rank 25 pastoral issues in order of importance, said Cooke. Sixty-five percent of parishes participated.

Once those responses were in, members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and Presbyteral Council met with these representatives, parish priests and Chancery department directors in seven regional sessions to settle on which issues were most important.

As the narrowing process continued, “those same five priorities seemed to come up at every meeting,” said Cooke. “At that point, we set up action plans and broke into five teams to look at each of the specific goals.”

A brief overview of the goals and recommended action plans are as follows:

Sacramental renewal
• The Department for Evangelization and Catechesis and parish faith formation or religious education coordinators will organize opportunities for laity to learn about the sacraments through religious education programs, retreats, small communities, homilies and Catholic Voice stories. In addition, a two-year sacramental program will be planned for the diocese.

• Parishes will reinforce and/or reintroduce participation in Eucharistic celebration beyond regular Sunday Masses through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi processions and other important cultural feast days. They will emphasize participation by young people and provide convenient daily Mass schedules for working people. A Eucharistic Congress will be planned.

• Provide more opportunities for people to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation through communal penance services, regular opportunities for individual confessions, and non-sacramental penitential services.

• Create a liturgical commission to provide a vision for liturgy by investing more parish funds into quality music and art that will enhance sacramental practices.

• Involve the diocesan liturgical commission and leaders from ethnic centers and ministries to translate liturgy into language and practices relevant to culturally-specific communities in the diocese.

Faith formation and catechesis
• Adopt the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) as a model for all diocesan faith formation programs as a way to engage the whole person: the heart, the mind and the spirit.

• Write and develop technological resources that support faith formation and make them available to all parishes and deaneries.

• Organize five pilot parishes or deaneries to begin carrying out the process of implementation that will then serve as mentors for more parishes.

• Help parishes to be more outwardly focused and welcoming to all with the help of a network of evangelizers from selected parishes.

Pastoral leadership
• Develop leadership educational opportunities for all pastoral leaders including an annual conference on parish management and growth strategies.

• Appoint additional pastoral associates in spiritual leadership and spiritual director roles within the diocese.

• Identify ministry models that utilize the talents of lay leaders for business administration in parishes.

• Train and support all priests in an understanding of Bay Area culture and support parishes in understanding the cultures of ethnic priests.

• Provide ongoing training to parish liturgists, music directors and youth ministers.

• Conduct a survey to assess the needs of culturally specific parishes.

Youth and young adults
• Introduce the components of comprehensive youth ministry through parish orientations and peer leadership retreats.

• Utilize multi-media and current communication technologies to connect and involve young people in youth ministry and parish life.

• Provide funding sources and identify needs at the parish level so that professional youth ministers can be hired and trained.

• Develop an educational model to help young people understand and discern vocations that include single life, Christian marriage, priesthood, religious life, diaconate and lay ministry.

• Assess the best practices in parishes, other dioceses and denominations to determine a successful model for use in the diocese.

• Analyze cultural and ethnic differences regarding stewardship and use that data to educate ethnic groups about how the common Church in America is supported.

• Form stewardship committees at each parish and cultural center.

• Train parishes to utilize “Called and Gifted” or similar programs to help parishioners discern their gifts.

• Develop plans for serving the poor from a stewardship perspective, in addition to a social justice approach.

• Encourage parishes to become tithing parishes over the next few years to fulfill both parish and social justice needs.

The new strategic plan is now in its final draft stage and is being further refined during a series of three meetings this fall.

The first, held on Sept. 29 at St. Raymond Church in Dublin, was chaired by Bishop Allen Vigneron and leaders of the task forces exploring each of the five key areas. It was open to those who took part in the consulting sessions.

The Presbyteral Council will study the final draft at a meeting later this month. In November, the diocesan department directors will meet to discuss the impact of the strategic plan upon their work.

Also on the schedule is a special clergy study day with Patrick Lencioni, an organizational development specialist, as speaker. Lencioni, a member of St. Isidore Parish in Danville, is author of several nationally recognized books, including the New York Times best-seller, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” He will speak on “Ways to Build a Healthy Parish” using the new pastoral plan.

Cooke said that the final draft of “A Call to Holiness” will be released on the Diocese of Oakland’s web site on the Feast of the Epiphany.

Shortly afterwards, Cooke and task force members will begin visiting parish councils to help them fold elements of the plan into the parishes’ individual pastoral plans.

In a letter to task force participants last month, Bishop Vigneron said he hoped each parish would look at the plan and consider how it can “collaborate with other parishes and diocesan staff in bringing the Church farther along the path of renewal charted for us by the Second Vatican Council — a community of faithful disciples of Jesus Christ sharing His light with all peoples. . . .to respond to the universal call to holiness.”

At the Sept. 29 meeting, the bishop said that all of the steps involved in crafting “Our Call to Holiness” convinced him of the value of the planning process.

Asked if the strategic plan will call for extra staffing, Cooke said it’s too early to predict. But, she said, the diocese will review the plan annually to determine how it is being implemented. Those assessments might impact the annual budget.

Cooke stressed that the plan is not a “you should do” for parishes, but rather, serves as “a guideline for them to understand what the diocese is focusing on.”

Al Starosciak, a member of St. Bonaventure Parish in Concord and chair of the task force focusing on faith formation and catechesis that recommended using the RCIA model for adult faith formation, said he cannot predict how it might be used in any one parish, but believes that the RCIA undergirding principle of engaging “not just head, but heart and spirit” in faith sharing, will successfully allure people “one person at a time.”

“This is the new evangelism,” he said.

Father Bob McCann, president of the Presbyteral Council and pastor of St. Raymond Parish, said he is happy that the bishop and his diocesan planners have seen the need for a specific vision for the next four years. “We have limited resources and using them wisely by investing in catechesis and youth is a good plan.”


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