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Our God of Surprises!

From Elizabeth Eiland Figueroa – “May the God of Surprises Delight You”

May the God of Surprises delight you, inviting you to accept gifts not yet imagined.

May the God of Transformation call you, opening you to continual renewal.
May the God of Justice confront you, daring you to see the world through God’s eyes.
May the God of Abundance affirm you, nudging you towards deeper trust.
May the God of Embrace hold you, encircling you in the hearth of God’s home.
May the God of Hopefulness bless you, encouraging you with the fruits of faith.
May the God of Welcoming invite you, drawing you nearer to the fullness of God’s expression in you.
May God Who is Present be with you, awakening you to God in all things, all people, and all moments.
May God be with you.
Amen.

I needed some time today because I will admit as happy as I was for those parishes that will remain open, my heart was thinking of those of us who have suffered through the PPA process. At the end of June, it will be two years since St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa closed in Frankford. I don’t know where the time went but I do know the fervor of our efforts has not diminished since then. I hope you like the above prayer and understand that we believe in God’s will and His power to change what we think has been the terrible wrongs over the last 3 years.

How many of us were surprised today reading the Archdiocese Announces Results of Recent Parish Pastoral Planning in Philadelphia as Well as Delaware and Montgomery Counties”? We truly celebrate with our brothers and sisters in the Pastoral Planning Areas of 330 (Delaware County – I have family there with whom I have been praying), 420 and 570 whose parishes have been given more time and support to strengthen needed areas of weakness or to continue already successful ministries.

My church, St. Joachim closed in 2013, but I have always said this issue was much bigger than St. Joachim. We need to understand  that the parishes of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are not islands. “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12: 4-5). Since the first church merged/closed in 2012, concerned Catholics have believed and worked to convey that this Parish Pastoral Planning Process is unfair, exclusionary, unequally applied and had preplanned outcomes. What have we achieved in the last 3 years? This – today’s announcement by the Archbishop and the  Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As Job suffered many trials, we, too, can say, “Your own mouth condemns you, not I; your own lips refute you” (Job: 15: 6). Here are further reasons that demand that the PPA process be reviewed and redone:

  • Archbishop Chaput “has…made decisions regarding possible parish mergers in the City of Philadelphia as well as Delaware and Montgomery Counties.” We were told Archbishop Chaput was simply following the recommendations of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and the Council of Priests and the College of Consultors.
  • “Parish Area Pastoral Planning is designed to be as collaborative and consultative as possible.” That didn’t happen for many, for us. Pastors told or didn’t tell what was happening; parishioners were included or told it was secret, ultimately, pastors and deans were making the decisions.
  • “In the majority of cases, the regional bishop and the dean meet with the pastors as well as their pastoral and finance councils to hear their concerns and receive their recommendation which are brought before the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee, the Council of Priests and the College of Consultors for their observation and recommendations.”  No one ever came to meet with our pastoral and finance councils, the Bishops that now say Masses at the oldest church in the PPA never said a Mass. No one has heard our concerns yet.
  • “The recommendation from the parishes noted the complexity of various issues, outlined how the parishes could improve their financial conditions, and noted general areas in which the parishes could collaborate by possibly sharing some resources and staff.” Some of the parishes were asked to compile more detailed plans by July 2015 and provide updates by December 2015 of their implementation. There isn’t any parish whose issues aren’t complex or could improve in some areas or share resources – if  they were allowed.
  • “The recommendation from the parishes asserted that all of the parishes in the area are financially and pastorally viable and should remain free standing.” Our pastor asked that we be “free standing”? “No” was the answer. We had $300,000 a year from the rental of our school in cash. We had no debt. Didn’t matter.  We even had an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales pastor who wanted to remain in his position and we would not drain any resources from the Archdiocese. Now, our merged parish of Holy Innocents has 3 priests, 1 permanent deacon, and a Sister pastoral minister, a Sister for pastoral care but we can’t have Masses, prayer services, communion services, are denied public worship even if we do the services ourselves. The good news is you can get married and they will bury you but you’re on your own for anything else. Is it any wonder the people’s hearts are not calling them to contribute since they’ve already given what they and their ancestors built? Is it any wonder, we’re “Roamin’ Catholics” looking for a new home because we were told there is no room for us in the AOP?
  • “The Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee is to work on formulating structures that will facilitate a formal collaboration between parishes”. Part of the problem with this PPA process was that it wasn’t positive thinking regarding what we could do to stay open – just close the number of parishes you needed to stave off bankruptcy. Why not try “collaboration between parishes” 3 years ago? I’m sure someone had the idea. I have personally read ideas other parishes had to keep their church open – good and reasonable ideas which were ignored.
  • “The complex and difficult issues in PPA xxx will require further study and discussion before any final decisions are made. It is noted that the special circumstances in this area include a number of personal parishes, some large parish complexes that are difficult to maintain, a declining number of active Catholics in the area, and serious financial difficulties in several of the parishes.” Decisions were made quickly in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Get it done.  St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa were both closed in 2013. Mater Dolorosa was a personal parish but that didn’t slow down or stop the decision to close both churches so that Frankford no longer has a Catholic Church although we did for 170+ years. We have declining active Catholics – we’re older but we have people who want to evangelize and renewed their faith well before the Pope’s visit. Father Higgins, our dean, has been touted as the priest who must manage 22 properties but that didn’t bother anyone in 2013.
  • “The primary focus will be on ways the parishes can collaborate in sharing pastoral ministry and resources”. This is wonderful! But don’t forget that you have “new” parishes that don’t want to collaborate with their own worship sites!

There has been great dissolution and sadness in our Archdiocese.  Thank you for reading and caring about the future of our faith here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. God bless you! God bless us all!

We will be taking future action and are planning a walk/drive and rally on May 31st. Please save the date and plan to join us. We need you and you need us! In the meantime, we await more surprises from our God!

3 replies on “Our God of Surprises!”

[…] For almost 2 years, we have been asking this question and no from the Archdiocese will met with us or talk to us. Unless efforts are made to review and reverse some of the 46 church closings in the last three years, we would have to answer a resounding “Yes” to that question. To learn more of the reasons why we feel this way, please take the time to read a recent post, “Our God of Suprises”. […]

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