Toronto’s Bishop William McGrattan says the archdiocese’s new pastoral plan is ambitious, but one that will allow parishioners to live a more Christian life. Photo by Michael Swan

Pastoral plan demands more of everyone

  • January 27, 2013

Archdiocese of Toronto’s new plan a ‘spiritual reality’

TORONTO - The archdiocese of Toronto’s new pastoral plan isn’t so much about what Toronto Catholics will do as it is about who they are.

“I was quite delighted to see in the pastoral plan that it is founded in the life of prayer,” said the Congregation of St. Joseph’s Sr. Mary Rowell. “Our life of prayer — communally and personal, but particularly communally in the Eucharist — is foundational to our Christian faith. It’s foundational to taking that relationship (with Christ) and making it real.”

To Rowell, who has taught pastoral theology to graduate students at the University of St. Michael’s College and Regis College, it makes sense to ground a pastoral plan in prayer because prayer is so intimately entwined with what it means to be pastoral.

“The pastoral entails both a search inwards and then an expression of that life in God outward — both within the Church and beyond the walls of the Church,” she said. “It’s done in such a way that it reflects the love and care of God.”

The man who has chaired meeting after meeting and travelled across the archdiocese to speak to Catholics throughout the 18-month process of writing the pastoral plan has no doubt the final product is a spiritual reality.

“When I go into a parish, those people touch my faith life. This pastoral plan hopefully has the end result of touching their faith lives,” said Toronto Auxiliary Bishop William McGrattan. “It’s going to impact on parishioners. It’s going to impact on priests. When I go into a parish and witness the life and the faith of the people, they’re in my prayer the next day, every day.”

The plan will demand more of people — more responsibility for their parish, more involvement in ministry, more volunteering and more prayer. But the plan’s ambitious demands will also allow parishioners to live a more Christian life, McGrattan said.

“They (goals of the plan) demand charity. The result of charity is that it moves us to a greater sense of hope,” he said. “Any time that someone puts out the needs and priorities, it is Christian love that is the first response. Where there is Christian love others begin to see that as a sign of hope. You see the two of them (charity and hope) intimately connected.”

The plan itself makes the link between prayer and the New Evangelization explicit.

“The New Evangelization, if it is to become a reality in the archdiocese, relies on us to move closer in our relationship with Christ, and that requires time each day in prayer,” reads the plan. “We need to know Jesus, not just about Jesus.”

If Toronto Catholics learn to pray and discern with the pastoral plan in mind, it will “ensure we’re not in maintenance so much as mission,” said Cardinal Thomas Collins at a meeting with archdiocese staff to discuss the plan before Christmas.

“A pastoral plan is not any new invention. The pastoral plan is already given in the missionary mandate,” said University of St. Michael’s College theology professor Fr. Stan Chu Ilo. “What is very decisive for me in this pastoral plan is a vision.”

But sometimes grand visions suffer from being too big and too general.

“After reading this I have the question, what is distinctively Torontonian about this plan?” asked Ilo.

The plan goes to great lengths to respond to the multicultural character of the city, but most big cities today are multicultural, said Ilo. It’s going to be up to parishes to ensure that Toronto’s pastoral plan is in touch with the very specific pastoral challenges of their communities, said Ilo.

The official plan acknowledges the role parishes must play when it lays out an expectation that every parish will develop its own pastoral plan, which also means they will have “structures, guidelines and processes for ongoing consultation and planning.”

Pastors can’t do it alone. They need an effective, engaged pastoral council, said Ilo.

“It’s not just a schema you design out of books and guidelines,” he said. “It actually emerges ex corde ecclesia. It emerges from the heart of the Church, from the joys and pains of the faithful — their questions, their hurts, their pains.”

A select few parishes beat the archdiocese to the punch on pastoral planning.

When Redemptorist Father Peter Chin came to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Chinese Catholic parish 12 years ago he was facing an influx of refugees and poor immigrants from mainland China. He was convinced the parish needed a plan to deal with what amounted to a pastoral emergency, but his pastoral council was skeptical.

“There was resistance at first,” Chin said. “Resistance because this was a whole new thing for them. In the past, it was just about maintaining the status quo.”

Eventually the 20 members of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel pastoral council, each representing one of the ministries of the parish, came to see how the new immigrants needed help with everything from language lessons and adapting to Canada’s work culture to faith formation in RCIA programs.

“That’s why we are bursting at the seams with conversions,” said Chin.

Parishes that are prayerful and able to take responsibility are the kind of places that will produce vocations in the future, said archdiocesan vocations director Fr. Hansoo Park.

“It’s a call to exercise our baptismal calling… a deeper awareness of the mission we have,” he said.

The call in the archdiocesan plan to develop a culture of vocations is based on a conviction that there is no shortage of vocations, but if young men and women lack the context for prayerful discernment and reflection those vocations will die on the vine. The vocations commitment in the pastoral plan is to create that context for three distinct groups — high school students, university students and young people who have begun their working lives.

“We need to look into not only catechizing our young people but helping through youth ministry and parishes, helping them recognize the gift of the Church,” said Park. “They have to be exposed to an environment where they can think about God.”

While Toronto is often seen as an oasis in the North American vocations desert, with more priests and younger priests than elsewhere, it’s actually a more complex picture, said McGrattan.

“We are faced with the demand for certain clergy to be able to speak certain languages,” he points out. “That therefore creates a pressure and a demand. We’re finding there is a shortage sometimes in certain emerging ethnic communities. We don’t have enough priests.”

Most of all Catholics are called to serve others and not themselves, points out Chin.

“I live downtown and I cannot escape the people sleeping on the streets, the poor, the homeless, people living on the fringe,” he said.

For Chin, a pastoral plan needs to start with our response to the poor and the marginalized.

Over the last six years, the Office of Refugees Archdiocese of Toronto has demonstrated that, with concrete plans and objectives, Catholic parishes can act on social justice.

“When we talk about refugees, we’re talking about marginalized people,” said ORAT executive director Martin Mark.

Mark and his staff have worked more evenings than days meeting with parish staff and volunteers, helping parishes form refugee committees, connecting parishes with other parishes and volunteer groups and explaining the complex web of regulation around refugee sponsorship. The result is 166 of Toronto’s 225 parishes are actively sponsoring refugees.

Being part of the pastoral plan helps the refugee ministry, said Mark.

“The difference is more connection and the spiritual input to be part of the pastoral plan, to be part of the social teaching,” he said. “My understanding is that it’s not part of the Catholic life. It is the Catholic life.”

The ORAT model is something every social ministry can learn from, said McGrattan.

“We can learn from that. We can use that in other areas of social justice and social need that — whether that be the homeless and Out of the Cold programs, whether that be children where a lot of our parishes provide breakfast programs and support the Catholic school, whether it be in support for vulnerable youth in critical areas,” he said. “Best practices are part of being good stewards.”


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