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All Things New strategic pastoral planning examines Church’s evangelization efforts, structures

All faithful invited to engage in process to strengthen the Archdiocese of St. Louis' evangelization

How are Catholics in St. Louis bringing the Gospel message of Jesus to others in our present day?

That question is central to the All Things New strategic pastoral planning effort launched on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25) in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The process will examine all facets of the local Church and ultimately strengthen evangelization efforts. It also will identify opportunities for improvement and renewal within the entire structure of the archdiocese, including parishes, schools, archdiocesan offices and agencies and other ministry efforts.

The archdiocese has long been structured according to a centuries-old model of Church, which relied heavily on immigrant Catholics. As the culture has changed, so, too, must the way in which we think about our evangelization efforts, said Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski.

“How do we bring people to the Church in our own culture and in our own day?” Archbishop Rozanski said. “This plan would not be possible unless as a whole we look at who we are and how we bring the Gospel message to others.”

Father Christopher Martin is leading the effort as vicar for strategic planning. He will work closely with Catholic Leadership Institute and stakeholders to oversee the planning process, which is expected to take several years.

Father Martin noted that the initiative will be rooted in an encounter with the Lord and a desire to share the Good News with others. The plan leads with the Church’s efforts to evangelize, with infrastructure considerations secondary, he said.

“When we have become a people of deeper prayer and united around our desire to make disciples, only then do we discern our infrastructure,” Father Martin said. “We must allow ourselves to be inspired by the Holy Spirit with a vision for the future that’s so attractive that we are willing to give up what we know in order to obtain it,” Father Martin said.

The next step: Disciple Maker Index

Over the next few months, all Catholics in St. Louis will be invited to pray and offer their feedback about the future of the archdiocese. The Disciple Maker Index survey will be released on Ash Wednesday, March 2. Through the survey, Catholics will share their thoughts and hopes for the Catholic Church here.

The Disciple Maker Index is an anonymous survey of parishioners that provides insights into the level of missionary discipleship in the parish in addition to the effectiveness of different aspects of parish life.

Survey results will give the archdiocese a clear picture of the needs of the local Church. The Disciple Maker Index survey is expected to be a driving force in deciding what will happen within the archdiocese. For more information, see allthingsnew.archstl.org.

Current challenges

The number of active Catholics in the archdiocese is declining, according to John Schwob, the director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese. For the first time in nearly 60 years, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will report fewer than 500,000 registered Catholics.

Parish status animarum reports (a parish register, which means “state of souls” in Latin, of people living in a parish and events related to them) show that the archdiocese will report approximately 490,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

If the current priesthood ordination trend continues, the number of active priests is expected to equal the number of parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis by 2027. Archbishop Rozanski ordained six men for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of St. Louis in May, and two men are expected to be ordained for St. Louis in 2022.

While St. Louis continues to have among the highest per capita rate of priests per person in the country for a diocese of our size, Archbishop Rozanski acknowledged that fewer priests are ordained than the archdiocese loses each year due to retirement, leaving active ministry or death.

Personal encounter

As Catholics are surveyed about the future of the archdiocese, all are invited to reflect on how they are living out their faith in a way that is a positive witness to others, Archbishop Rozanski said. In his years working as a parish priest with the RCIA program, he said the majority of those who were entering the Church were doing so because of a personal encounter they had with an individual or group of Catholics who influenced them.

“Nobody ever answered that it was because I read the great theologians or the doctors of the Church,” he said. “Pope Benedict XVI gives a beautiful vision of evangelization, which is that we propose the faith. We’re not hiding our faith or forcing it upon others, but we have different ways of proposing our faith. And the biggest way we propose our faith is how people witness us living out our commitment to Jesus as a Catholic Christian.”

While it remains uncertain how the structure of the local Church will change in the next few years, whatever is proposed, it’s the faith aspect that will emerge as strengthened, said the archbishop.

He shared the story of a trip to Turkey that he made as a young priest. Visiting the site of the Council of Ephesus, he saw that there was nothing left but ruins where a beautiful basilica once stood.

“The lesson to me was the faith that was lived then and celebrated on that site centuries later is the faith that is still present in our world,” he said. “From that site, I learned about physical structures, but really the faith that nothing can shake.”

When we rely on our faith, we are relying on Christ who is the rock upon which our faith is built, he said. “What I am looking forward to is presenting our unchanging faith in Jesus Christ in our world that we have today.”

>> Learn more, keep informed

To learn more about All Things New, the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ strategic pastoral planning effort, visit allthingsnew.archstl.org

The website will include an opportunity to sign up for regular updates via email, as well as information on the Disciple Maker Index, which will be available beginning Ash Wednesday, March 2.

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