The St. Agnes Tsao Kouying parish community exceeded its original goal threefold. It raised more than $1.5 million as part of the Family of Faith campaign. Photo courtesy of John Ecker

Family of Faith is bringing pastor closer to his flock

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  • January 31, 2015

MARKHAM, ONT. - Fr. Francis Chong admits he was nervous about asking his parishioners for $490,000. Today he is delighted at how his prayers were answered to the tune of $1.5 million — and counting.

Parishioners at St. Agnes Kouying Tsao Catholic Church in Markham, Ont. answered his call by already more than tripling their goal in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Family of Faith campaign.

“At the beginning I was worried a lot because I didn’t know what the response would be from the people, I felt a lot of pressure,” he said. “Then I prayed and undertook it as part of my pastoral ministry so that it is not just asking for money.”

The outstanding response has Chong investigating the possibility of building a much-needed parish hall. Due to how the archdiocese and individual parishes share the proceeds of Family of Faith donations, the parish has already raised more than $850,000 towards such a project.

Chong credits the generosity to the cultural background of the mainly Chinese parish. Exceeding the goal was the result of a broad community effort as opposed to large donations from a handful of wealthy benefactors, he said.

“Mainly my parishioners are Chinese immigrants,” Chong said. “We have a servant culture which is different from the critical culture of America. (They know) it is a time of sacrifice and we encourage them.”

Although built only 16 years ago, St. Agnes is currently unable meet all the social and cultural needs of his parishioners, Chong said. A hall will help serve those needs.

“Church is not only a place of worship,” said Chong. “It is also the place of encounter with the people. They come here not only to worship God but also meet people and talk.”

Each week Chong said the parish spends about $400 to shuttle parishioners to and from a temporary gathering place.

Launched last May, the Family of Faith campaign is an archdiocese-wide initiative to raise $105 million. The funds are earmarked to support elements of the archdiocese’s pastoral plan as well as address individual needs at the parish level.

Each parish is asked to raise 130 per cent of its annual offertory. The parish retains 25 per cent of what it raises up to the goal. If the goal is exceeded, the formula is reversed and the parish keeps 75 cents of each additional dollar.

In St. Agnes’ case, reaching its overall target of $490,000 earned $122,000 for the parish. But by tripling its goal, even though Wave 2 is only halfway complete, the parish has so far generated an additional $757,000 to possibly help finance a new hall.

Each pastor has considerable discretion in how his parish will allocate its parish funds, subject to the regional bishop’s approval and input from the pastoral committee and parishioners, said John Ecker, the campaign’s director of communications. While this ensures parishioners’ greatest needs are being addressed, it also brings the pastor closer to his people — a secondary function of the Family of Faith campaign.

“The more that the pastor connects with the parishioners on any level the more he is going to know his own parish family of faith,” said Ecker. “What a lot of pastors are coming to appreciate is the generosity and the will of parishioners out there. It is giving many clergy confidence that Catholics in the archdiocese are very willing to get behind the priorities that matter to us as Catholics.”

Ecker said that 19 of the 20 parishes in the first wave exceeded their goal while nine of 10 pilot parishes pushed the bar — a trend he hopes will continue throughout the campaign.

Although the entire process had Chong slightly nervous, the campaign has proven to be more valuable than just the money raised.

“I have a better understanding about my parishioners, their families, their lives, their faith and their spirituality at a very personal level,” Chong said.

“They are hoping most of all that one day we can achieve our dream (of a parish hall).”

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