By Katherine Long
Sun editor

   The final Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) meeting of 2012 was held at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse Nov. 3. The DPC is composed of pastoral council representatives from across the diocese. Items discussed at the meeting included highlights from the diocese’s ongoing pastoral planning process, an overview of the Formation for Ministry program and an update from the Victim Assistance Office.

   As in most dioceses in the northeast U.S., the demographics and resources of the Diocese of Syracuse have shifted significantly in the last several decades. Among these shifts are a declining population; declining Mass attendance; diminishing numbers of priests, religious and lay ministers; and changes in the cultural climate regarding religion.

   In order to explore these changes and to begin to create appropriate plans for reconfiguring parishes to address them, Father Jim Lang and Brother Ed Falsey held 150 focus sessions throughout the diocese during the winter and spring. The sessions were held for priests, religious, seminarians, faith formation directors, parish ministry staffs, parish trustees and parish pastoral council officers. Data were presented and attendees were given opportunities to discuss and make recommendations.

 

   Father Lang and Brother Falsey presented highlights from these focus sessions — which they characterized as candid and productive — to the DPC. Overall, they observed a need to move toward community-centered parishes, a shift that will require parish communities to discard parochialism, embrace new styles of leadership and increase collaboration. There are several options for reshaping parishes to meet this need — including clustering, merging or introducing a Parish Life Coordinator to manage the day-to-day leadership of a parish — but in any case, the future parish will need to be “mission focused, adaptive and collaborative” and “‘customized’ to fit the needs of the area.”

 

   Father Lang and Brother Falsey also presented recommendations based on the sessions. The recommendations include realigning pastoral care areas; providing diocesan guidance on naming and implementing parish leadership models; developing a pastoral planning communication plan; providing mentoring and training for parishes and priests/pastors; assessing financial resources; reviewing personnel policies for priests, deacons and lay ministerial leaders; promoting theological formation and education; implementing the New Evangelization; and focusing on hospitality and welcoming at parishes.

    As the pastoral planning process continues to unfold, Father Lang and Brother Falsey will be available to work with parishes or pastoral care areas to plan for the future. Father Lang can be reached at (315) 470-1437 or jlang@syrdio.org; Brother Falsey can be reached at
(315) 470-1430 or efalsey@syrdio.org.

   Father Charles Vavonese, joined by two graduates, presented on the Formation for Ministry program. Formation for Ministry is a program of education, training and field experience that prepares people to serve in a specialized area of ministry. Areas include catechetical, liturgical, pastoral care and youth ministries, among others.

   Father Vavonese gave an overview of the program requirements, which include core courses, retreats, workshops, supervised ministry experience and written theological reflections. The cost for the program is $690 per year; the cost, he said, is covered by the individual, the parish, or split between the two, depending on the individual’s situation.

   Louise Lutz, a parishioner of St. Leo’s Church in Tully, and Tom Grigson, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus, spoke about their positive experiences in the Formation for Ministry program. “I know that the Formation for Ministry program gives us the building blocks to bring Christ to the world, even if it’s just our little corner,” Grigson said.

   Those interested in Formation for Ministry should contact Father Vavonese at (315) 470-1491 or
cvavonese@syrdio.org.

   Jacqueline Bressette, who was hired as the Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator in June, gave an overview of the function of her office in ensuring the safety of children and youth in the diocese. She underlined that all “agents of the diocese,” including all clergy, religious, lay employees and volunteers, are required to report sexual abuse or suspected abuse. Bressette stressed that individuals should call her office if they know of or suspect child sexual abuse; suspect an offender or predator in the parish, school or agency; or have questions about issues taking place in those organizations. All calls made to the office will be kept confidential, Bressette said. She also said that in the case of abuse, her office will immediately contact authorities and conduct a diocesan investigation alongside the civil investigation. Overall, she urged people to pick up the phone.

   “Call if you have any sort of inkling that something may be happening,” Bressette said. “We all need to be ears and eyes for our children. I would rather get 100 calls that turn out to be nothing than to not receive a call and have a child hurt.”

   Bressette can be reached in the Victim Assistance Office at (315) 470-1465 or jbressette@syrdio.org.

   The meeting, which also included “parish best practices” presentations from Larry Hagan of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica and Bernadette Repetto from Holy Family Church in Endwell, closed with a brief address by and a question-and-answer session with Bishop Robert Cunningham.

   The next DPC meeting will be held March 9, 2013.