What I have to say here this week is, by no means, official dogma. These are simply my thoughts on the current situation in our parish and in our diocese as we move forward into the future. Time will tell if my perspective is accurate or if I am somehow missing the point.
One of things that I have tried to emphasize over my years as a priest is being “connected” to a particular parish. (My family, being originally from Philadelphia, saw people identifying themselves primarily with their home parish.) I have usually thought a person or family should be anchored or rooted in a parish that they considered their own in order to be spiritually nourished.
Today, many people will more commonly “shop around” to find a church that will suit their needs for a short term solution rather than for a long haul commitment. The typical scenario is that a person, couple or family seeks out a church where they can get married or have their child baptized or have a deceased loved one buried or any of a number of occasions where a church and one of its ministers is needed for a specific time and purpose. If people still go to Mass each week, they may float around to whatever church has a Mass time to suit their current plans or schedule.
The recent re-configuration of parishes throughout the diocese—while seen as critical by its leadership so that the entire diocese does not go “belly up” in the future—has not necessarily helped the situation. People saw their parishes merged and re-named or, in some cases, closed entirely. Similarly, schools were reconfigured, renamed or closed as well. The parish where parishioners were baptized in, received their first Holy Communion in, got married in, donated a statue to, refurbished the stained-glass window in, etc., etc., was no longer there as they had known it for years. Any long-term connection was severed and people were told to move on and accept their new situation.
Given the fact that we have also lost quite a few generations of Catholics over the years who no longer practice their faith regularly or may have found another denomination that currently suits their needs, our parishes continue to struggle for future existence. Many younger Catholics don’t see a necessary connection to the local parish, don’t practice their faith regularly, don’t support the church financially, and continue drift along without a spiritual compass. Why are our young people the way they are today? Consider all of the above factors, combined with the materialistic, hedonistic, egocentric culture in which we live. Doesn't seem to be a real rosy picture, does it?
Without an intimate connection to a parish by its parishioners, the future of this or any parish is rather tenuous. Certain individuals or certain families may still retain this strong relationship to their parish. However, I fear that for the vast majority of Catholics in our area, they will just drift along and wonder "why?" when their churches are no longer there for their families and for their spiritual needs in the future.
Fr. Ed Namiotka