Post-earthquakes ministry in the Archdiocese

Cecily McNeill4 May 2012 Around 60 priests, lay leaders and Catholic Centre staff attended a ministry formation day last month to look at the issues concerning the more rigorous building…

Cecily McNeill
4 May 2012

Around 60 priests, lay leaders and Catholic Centre staff attended a ministry formation day last month to look at the issues concerning the more rigorous building codes that have been adopted since the Christchurch quakes.

People gathered at Our Lady of Grace parish, Heretaunga, to hear and discuss implications for the archdiocese.

Monsignor Charles Cooper of Eastbourne and Fr Albano set the scene after prayer and a welcome from Archbishop John Dew.

Mgr Charles spoke of Easter reminding us of ‘God’s “working” pattern: using disaster and death as a gateway/passage to what will be better and greater and different with new dimensions not seen or experienced before.
‘Therefore my first premise is that this new situation brought about by the devastating earthquakes in Canterbury may be the gateway which God’s spirit is using to lead us to a further renewal of the Church in this archdiocese.’

Mgr Charles reminded everyone of Synod 2006 when Archbishop John invited us all to have a part in its making. ‘That will mean you and I working together to explore and map the way ahead.’ … ‘Come with me … join me in this process of prayer and dialogue’, Mgr Charles quoted Archbishop John as saying.
‘Is this the time when we should be having our next synod?’

Moving to Christ’s words in the gospel, ‘Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up’, said that just as Jesus was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, ‘We are the Church – Christ’s mystical body – we, the baptised, believing faithful – not the buildings or the organisation. The church building is only the shelter for the Church, the gathering within it.

‘Sixty years ago, when I was a seminary student, strong voices arising from the priest-worker movement in France, but throughout the universal Church, were calling for a change of emphasis in the Church to come back to the mission of the Church instead of most of our resources being poured into maintenance. 

Is our present situation an opportunity for us to reconsider that call? Certainly we have Pope Benedict calling us to a new evangelisation. We have to admit the large attrition rate of our youth and the graduates of our Catholic schools; of those received into the Church through RCIA; among the middle-aged and the people who feel they’ve been driven out of the Church because of the failure of their first marriage, or because they’re gay, or because they’ve been treated unjustly by the Church, or dismissed from their employment.’

Mgr Charles said the sense of urgency about accommodating our congregations because a large number of our church buildings are unsafe or condemned was right.
‘But we don’t have to provide permanent accommodation now. We need to find the stop-gaps while we take the needed time to take stock, to re-access, look to the future but, equally, to seriously reconsider all our opportunities for mission, for being Christ in the wider community.’

Mgr Charles spoke of being in the air force as a chaplain in his early years as a priest.
All denominations on the air force base shared offices and worship space.

‘We catered for Holy Week and every two or three years the Catholics had a week’s mission. And, having the one office complex, the three chaplains were able to work together saving a good deal of duplication of time and resources. Was this, for me, a view of the future?’

Today in Eastbourne there are three churches sharing the Catholic parish’s dilemma.
‘Together we have three church buildings each used for less than two hours for the Sunday services and, apart from funerals, weddings and baptisms, for the most part they stand empty during the week.

‘Instead of spending a large amount of money on strengthening or rebuilding those three church buildings, should we be considering pooling our resources, selling off two highly desirable pieces of land and having one solid, safe church building and set of offices – leading perhaps to finding many more ways of working together?

‘I feel sure that if we allow her to, the Holy Spirit will lead us together to being an even more renewed, vibrant archdiocese.’

Referring to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, Mgr Charles said we needed to attend to our emotions in times of crisis.
‘As priests and pastoral leaders we move on from parish to parish. After our second or third appointment, we learn to hold ourselves back from being too emotionally involved. But it is not the same for our people.’

Maybe, he suggested, the first ministry should be to support those who had experienced many milestones in their parish church in their grief and their loss.

Jesus dispells fear
Fr Albano Da Costa SVD of Wainuiomata opened his talk with a focus on John 20 (19-22) when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room for fear of the Jews – one of the great acounts of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus.
‘Fear locks us in. Fear caves us within ourselves. What frightens us most in life is death and the fear of death.’

While the disciples were thinking that those who came for Jesus would also come for them, Jesus came among them as he ‘comes into our fears and offers us definitive peace which the world cannot offer’.

This is the good news of Easter
‘What’s the first thing that Jesus does when he convinces his beloved disciples that he is alive? He gets them out of their lousy upper room.’
Our culture dictates to us in a thousand ways saying … good life is the life of autonomy, Fr Albano said.

The bible says good life comes in discovering God’s mission. ‘We are sent by Christ and that’s what gives me identity, purpose and joy. The Church’s mission is primarily to receive and give divine life.’

Some pastoral questions
‘I see on the faces of our people concern, disappointment, frustration, shock, panic, doubt and some have even approached me seeking further clarification and expressing concern over the future of their respective parishes. People have in them the feeling of losing their spiritual home.

‘Our people are looking up to us as servant leaders in our parish communities for further guidance, clarification, direction, help and pastoral care in facing the impact of the project itself. I feel we as pastors and lay pastoral leaders need support, dialogue and collaboration.

Fr Albano ended his presentation by saying that after almost five months working in the pastoral area of Petone, Waiwhetu and Eastbourne he has realised ‘how much (parishioners) are teaching me in becoming a true witness of God’s love.’