After spending months meeting with rank-and-file Catholics to get feedback on how the local archdiocese is doing, Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Friday laid out the priorities the local church will focus on over the next three to five years.
They include creating welcoming communities that celebrate diversity; embracing Christ in every family, parish and ministry; ministering to families and young people; increasing the focus on social teaching; and preparing future church leaders.
The archbishop is scheduled to discuss the new priorities during the 11 a.m. Mass this Pentecost Sunday at St. Louis Cathedral.
In September, Aymond will announce 18 goals that fall in line with those priorities. The goals will be measurable, will have target dates and will include new programs or the reconfiguration of old ones.
John Smestad, who is now executive director of planning and ministries, will be in charge of working with the departments within the archdiocese to make sure the church is focused on meeting the goals that are developed.
“What is consistent throughout these goals is we don’t wait for them to come to us,” he said, noting programs could include going door-to-door. “We go out looking for people in trying to bring Christ to them — not in a way that would be overbearing or burdensome, but in a way that would be an invitation.”
The rare feedback-seeking process, called a consultative synod, involved about 4,000 Catholics who were asked three questions: What is the local church doing well? What can it do better? And what three priorities should it set for the next 18 to 36 months?
The synod included 16 meetings, 10 of which were open to the public. The others were held for selected groups, such as priests and deacons.
After the meetings ended in September of last year, teams of analysts sorted the priorities by theme and identified the most-cited priorities across all fields.
Aymond said that while much of the new focus may sound familiar to Catholics, the context has changed greatly in the last decade, not to mention during the time since the last synod, in the 1980s.
“Some of these goals as we come out with them specifically will reflect the goals of the synod in the ’80s,” Aymond said, “but life is different, technology is different, family life is different.”
Secularism has become more a part of daily life. Religious freedom is threatened, and fewer people are baptized and married in the church, he said.
“We live in a society where that (secular) voice is becoming stronger,” he said. “How can we work within that voice and that current in our society? There is a lot of healthiness in the church, but we also know that we are living in a society that can easily look at the individual through the secular prism and not the prism of Christ.”
To attract people to the fold, Aymond said, the local church needs to reach out and become more welcoming to all groups.
“We also know that there are people who are away from the church, who don’t know Christ or have given up on God and Christ,” he said. “We know that there are others who have been hurt by the church or are away from the church. They might have grown cold in their relationship with God. Where are these people? Where can we find them? How can we reach out to them.”
He also said more emphasis needs to be placed on ministering to the young and identifying those who are interested in religious vocations.
“Each parish and school and Catholic institution will be asked to identify someone whom they feel is called to the priesthood … to religious life,” he said.
Finally, the local church must expand its idea of social justice to include not only the poor but also the disabled, illegal immigrants and victims of human trafficking, among other groups.
The synod did not address changes to Catholic schools because the system just completed its own strategic plan, Aymond said. The archdiocese’s 80 Catholic schools educated 38,000 students this year.
He said no churches would be closed, and it could be the case that new ones will be started in areas where the archdiocese sees there is a need.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans is home to about 500,000 Catholics in Orleans, St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, Jefferson, St. Tammany, Plaquemines and Washington parishes. There are 110 Catholic church parishes throughout the metro area.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.