Focusing on the parish to respond to identity crises experienced at all levels, furthering personal encounters in the framework of synodality. It’s the underlying motivation of the Pastoral Guidance Centre (COP), that held its 66th National Refresher Week themed “Reconciliation in the community. Being formed to mercy, self-giving and engagement,” in the city of Foligno (Italy). For Monsignor Domenico Sigalini, bishop of Palestrina, COP President, “reconciliation and mercy in everyday life, in ecclesial structures, in internal and external relations of the Christian community, in its relations with the world, in its evangelising force, encompass living up to the modern times that have led us to dream of a Church whose main features we hereby intend to offer, share, and help become concrete action.”
Facing the major challenges of the present times. “Speaking of reconciliation also enables us to address the question of conflict”, continued Msgr. Sigalini:
“There can be no forgiveness or reconciliation unless peace is made, and there is no peace to make unless there is a conflict that needs to be solved. Today we are called to accept our conflicts, tensions, as well as different and sometimes opposing viewpoints also inside the Church.”
However, the synodal approach in parishes risks being limited to theory. “We don’t need slogans. We need facts. Importance should be given to the formation of men and women religious who already experience synodality in community life, but who seem to forget it in their relations with other people. This also involves the presbyters, for synodality means being able to listen: those tasked with decision-making chores should be aware of the debate that has broached several issues.” Such pastoral procedure, far from taking away authority to the presbyter, “puts an end to obsolete discourse on clericalism and the ‘sleeping’ laity.” “We are not interested in furthering such contrasts, rather, we want to address the major challenges of today, which we cannot face on our own.”
Spiritual needs. Thus the parish is “a bridge and not a wall, a crossroads of needs and loneliness longing for human relations and prospects, that does not fear being a minority. Far from being sectarian, the parish ensures that the commitment to save and welcome everyone continues to thrive. Its valuable feature consists in being Catholic, against the temptation to become intimate and private, or a lobby specialized in excepting issues.” A special effort is demanded in terms of the proposed pastoral model: “Those living amidst the people, especially in the peripheries, are aware that individuals have a strong need for spirituality. But too many times we offer closed and distant places that don’t facilitate the encounter with the questions that people keep in their hearts.” In order to provide an answer to those needs said Mons. Sigalini “the shepherd must live with the odour of the sheep.
The parish priest is the man that furthers bonds, not the one who commands.
He is in charge of preserving relations inside the community with patience and dedication, encouraging life inside the community, while the latter shouldn’t repose on him alone but also on the laity and his collaborators.”
Distant and near. Is it hard to combine the pastoral care of few sheep left inside the fence and the missionary zeal of going out to seek those who are far away? “They shouldn’t be seen as two separate things. The care of the sheep that are inside consists in helping them reach out to those who are still outside. For example, if the priest is accompanied by people living in a given territory, it will be possible to reach out to otherwise unreachable situations.” On the other hand, pointed out Mons. Sigalini, Pope Francis clearly states in Evangelii Gaudium: “There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization. Their renewal cannot be deferred, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”
If the pastoral Council is seen as a public square “where people ask for information, to learn what is being said”, then the step that needs to be made is a renewal “involving procedures, ordination and praxis of ecclesial institutions”, envisaging an “updating of the Code of Canon Law, that has not yet integrated Council definitions and decisions.”
The future of the parish, concluded Mons. Sigalini, “lies in the quality of the relationship between the priest and the faithful, as well as among local inhabitants, and those who seldom take part in local life.”