Do not be afraid

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We have worked together on this mandate from the Lord for four years, trying to prepare our Diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens to earnestly engage in the New Evangelization. First, I wish to express my gratitude for all of the hard work that has been done to begin this process of renewing our ecclesial life as Catholics in our Diocese. I appreciate the generosity and dedication shown by all those who work for the Diocese and its various agencies. Much effort has been made on all levels, most especially in our parishes, which are burdened with many responsibilities and are now engaged in a planning process that will help foster the basis for a new evangelical spirit and movement. I must commend those in the Diocese who have taken responsibility for making the planning process understandable and as easy as possible.
At this time, I wish to reflect upon our past experiences in order to articulate a more detailed set of priorities regarding the ways in which the New Evangelization can transform our lives and institutions while at the same time seeking concrete responses to the challenges that still lie before us. As I have explained, renewal certainly must be personal, but it is also communal. It affects our Diocese, our parishes, and the structures that support our parochial life.

In light of the personal and communal revitalization that accompanies the New Evangelization, I believe we must address five key priorities that can serve as our common starting point for realizing the New Evangelization in our unique circumstances in Brooklyn and Queens. Our diocesan priorities must be clear. Those identified here are not presented in order of importance, but stand together as the starting point for our common agenda for the future. The New Evangelization has many goals and objectives. However, the planning process which we have begun in our parishes, of which over 75% have completed their initial pastoral plan, now must be reflected in the overall diocesan goals to which all of us can adhere and to which we can dedicate our efforts.

In order to define our priorities, we should acknowledge three preliminary considerations. First, any vision for the New Evangelization is a living reality. Evangelization is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is not our own. It is given to us through the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is the Lord’s vision for us, and it is the Spirit who inspires us to undertake this daunting task. We are called to address the real needs and experiences of our people at this challenging time in the life of the Church. We have endeavored to listen to our priests, deacons, religious, and laity, as they are the ones to be most affected by the work of the New Evangelization. We have tried to put into effect the recommendations which they have made. We must always be open to constant examination, reflection, dialogue, and change, a process which we should begin over and over again if we are to remain alive and open to the workings of the Spirit in our midst.

Our second consideration is the unique circumstances and challenges we face in Brooklyn and Queens. First of all, our ethnic diversity is an essential part of our diocesan fabric. This has been a long-standing phenomenon which continues into our own day and age, as we are the port for new immigrants who are coming to live in the great City of New York. We are the bedroom communities of those who work in Manhattan and elsewhere. We are the new home to many immigrants from various lands. The challenge of our ethnic diversity is not simply to include immigrants in the life of our Diocese by having services particularly directed towards them; rather, we must allow them to transform our diocesan life. In a certain sense, they are missionaries to us - they are the new evangelizers who have come from other experiences of faith, deeply lived, who can help us transform our own reality by including their experience, which will make us richer and better.
Another factor that we must consider is the demographic changes which we are experiencing in our city. As the population of Brooklyn and Queens is predicted to grow, perhaps our Catholic population may not increase in proportion to the growth that is foreseen. Most especially, practicing Catholics may not settle in our Diocese. Part of our challenge is to reach out to our young, urban professionals who are seeking a home in Brooklyn and Queens in increasing numbers. Perhaps their experiences of faith and its practices are very different from what other parishes are accustomed to offer. We must find new ways to reach out to these young people because their experiences of religion are unique and need special care.
We also face challenges regarding the resources that are available to us so that we might engage in the New Evangelization. We cannot underestimate the financial challenges which we face, with many parishes and schools operating with budget deficits. We cannot ignore the diminishing number of priests who are available for pastoral service. The average age of our diocesan priests is 63.4 years old11 and our seminarians number fewer than 40. If we do not recruit new vocations to the priesthood, our shortage of clergy will increase even more rapidly. One of the works of the New Evangelization is the recruitment of persons for the priesthood and religious life. Although our laity must take more responsibility, we cannot substitute for the unique role of the ordained clergy in the life of the Church.
This brings us to the issue of leadership. Our laity, as the majority of the Church, must recognize and undertake the leadership that only they can exercise since they live in the world as instruments of the New Evangelization. The leadership of priests, deacons, and religious is also critical. We must find more opportunities to foster true collaboration among the laity, clergy, and the women and men of consecrated life.
A third consideration involves the dialogue which has been established in the pastoral planning process between local and diocesan leadership to identify the priorities that address the mission of the New Evangelization. We have begun a “grass roots” process, so that parishes and clusters can tell the diocesan leadership what they believe is important for their future as agents of the New Evangelization. As a result, we are ready to tailor diocesan priorities to match the priorities that will be expressed to us. This letter is not meant to end this dialogue, but rather to establish a partnership so that the dialogue can continue including the insights of all those involved in pastoral planning. I now offer pastoral priorities which I believe need to be addressed in order to realize a comprehensive vision of the New Evangelization at this important juncture in the life of our Diocese. We have already dialogued and listened. Now we must act, while continuing to dialogue and evaluate our priorities.
I stand ready to listen, along with the leadership of the Diocese, to the priorities that have been discerned through the pastoral planning process. With the grace of God, I am sure that we will identify those priorities which the Lord has asked us to address and, together, we will find the ways and means that will allow us to achieve these goals, all of which come to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.


My vision of the New Evangelization involves five basic priorities.

One key diocesan priority is the ongoing support and formation of our priests. We are living in a difficult time in the life of our country and Diocese. This is felt most especially by priests who have numerous burdens placed upon their shoulders, while the number of active priests continues to diminish. The administrative challenges of parishes have become daunting and many priests are still suffering the repercussions and stigma of the abuse crisis. Our priests are our chief pastoral ministers and are critical to the leadership of the Church. We must do all that we can to support them by recognizing the heavy burden that they bear.
Our pastors face major challenges due to changing neighborhoods, demographic shifts, and the growing demands that arise from the temporal administration of parishes due to aging infrastructure and scarce resources. Our parish priests truly have become jacks of all trades and some feel that they are masters of none. Their primary responsibility, however, is the pastoral care of their people. In order to allow our priests more opportunities to devote their energy and talents to pastoral ministry, which is their first priority, I ask that the Vicariate for Temporalities and Administration propose diocesan norms that will establish and define the position of parish business managers who could assist our pastors in their administrative work in a canonically and pastorally appropriate manner. These norms should be ready for publication by March 31, 2008. Provision should also be made to explore the sharing of business managers by multiple parishes in a cluster. We must provide our priests more opportunities for spiritual growth, fraternal support, and personal refreshment.

The ministry of our priests, especially our pastors, is essential in the ongoing revitalization of the Diocese. Although parishes are being restructured in a variety of ways throughout the country, some without the presence of a priest-pastor, I believe that such models are not necessary for our Diocese, which is unique because it is the smallest in geographical size yet the most densely populated in the United States. Our advantage is that our parishes are close together, and most of our worship sites can be maintained, however, not without a special burden being placed upon our priests. As the shepherd of his people, guardian of the sacraments, and teacher of the faith, the priest stands in our midst in persona Christi (the Person of Christ), manifesting the Lord’s presence in a unique and irreplaceable way. There is no substitute for their pastoral leadership. We must find new ways, however, to support our priests so that their ministry in the future can be more fruitful.

Over these past four years, I have come to know and admire the priests of Brooklyn and Queens, many of whom have offered heroic service and witness to the people of the Diocese in very difficult circumstances. The memory of September 11, 2001, is still with us. Constant daily tragedies present frequent challenges to all of our pastors and pastoral staff members. Much has been accomplished over the past four years - progress that would have been impossible without the generous support and cooperation from the priests of our Diocese. I have the highest respect for them and have publicly acknowledged that given the complexity and difficulty of the parishes that we have, I do not think that I could find priests in the previous two dioceses in which I served who could lead these challenging parishes. I am grateful for all of the hard work, generous service, and witness that our priests provide to their people.
In order to assist our priests to live fruitful and joyful lives in ministry, I am committed to support them in any way that I can, especially in these changing and difficult times. More specifically, I wish to begin a sustained conversation that will allow the priests of our Diocese an opportunity to re-imagine their priestly ministry in light of the challenges we face. We have already begun this by inviting all of them to luncheon meetings in small groups to listen to their reflections. My notes number over 1,000 different insights into the challenges, difficulties, and successes of the priests of our Diocese. Our Presbyteral Council is working hard to analyze the data and to address them in a systematic way. Our dialogue must continue and we must allow our priests not only to remain faithful to our priestly life and ministry, but also to be open to creative new ways in which we can be sustained and nourished in the future.
We have been asked to explore alternative living arrangements for those priests who do not wish to live alone, so that they may have fraternal support and companionship. Regional rectories are a possible example. The quality of their interaction, however, must be addressed. We cannot have clerical boarding houses. We must have communities in which priests can live fraternally, pray together, sharing their lives and receiving necessary support from each other.
Our programs for the ongoing spiritual and theological formation of all priests need to be renewed. To this end, I ask that a comprehensive renewal of such diocesan programs be presented to the presbyterate for comment no later than May 1, 2008. Provisions should be made to allow each priest time to attend available spiritual and theological opportunities for growth. It is necessary to renew the mentoring program for the newly-ordained, recognizing the unique challenges they face as they begin their priestly ministry, especially in the first five years. In addition to being assigned a mentor, our newly-ordained will attend newly organized programs of support, as well as continuing theological formation. Work has already begun towards revising the program for the ongoing formation and support of our newly-ordained priests. A draft of this new program should be ready for consultation and review at the start of the new year.


Another essential priority is the ongoing support and revitalization of our parishes, schools, and programs of faith formation. This revitalization includes three specific, interrelated goals. The first goal is the need to identify those qualities that create pastoral vitality and to work towards developing and implementing initiatives that will help realize those qualities. The first part of this pastoral letter outlined these characteristics in great detail. We must, however, acknowledge one fundamental shift that affects both parishes and schools. We have moved from a model of church that maintained communities to one that is called to create communities of faith. This is an essential part of the New Evangelization. Our spirit is missionary and our primary task is to understand and revitalize the mission we have been given by Christ. This will mean finding new methods as well as renewing our zeal to truly revitalize our parishes and schools.
Our second goal is to nurture the essential ministerial link that should exist between the parishes and schools. The parish is not there to simply provide financial support to the school. Rather, it must see the school as critical to its mission - the mission of pastoral care and evangelization. There is a pastoral dependence of schools upon parishes. Schools cannot realize their full pastoral work apart from the parishes. Ideally, schools serve their local parishes by forming their children and parents in the life of faith, leading them to a life of active participation and worship in the parish. So often I hear, as I travel to various parishes in Brooklyn and Queens, that our children are not attending Mass, or that those in religious education are sometimes more likely to attend Mass because their programs are held on Sundays. The same dynamic should be operative in our religious education programs so that it might lead its children and parents to active worship in the parish, even if the programs are not held on Sunday. For this reason, we affirm that the privileged place for all Christian formation is the parish - the community of believers centered around the Eucharist.
A good example of the proper relationship that should exist between parishes and schools is reflected in our recent diocesan norms which govern the celebration of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion for our children. These norms recognize that the parish is the privileged place where children should be formed and where they should receive their Christian initiation. The schools, however, remain a vital partner in the ongoing religious education and faith formation of our children. It it clear that children should normally receive their sacraments in their parishes, not where they attend school. We will lose a sense of parish and our parishes will be bereft of children if we do not re-emphasize that the parish of each family is the privileged place for the reception of the sacraments.
All parish leadership must recognize and support the Catholic schools in their area as part of their own mission to form our people into the image of Christ. This should manifest itself in an attitude of co-responsibility which includes some financial and pastoral assistance from every parish for the work of its regional schools. To this end, I have asked the Office of the Superintendent for Catholic School Support Services to draft a comprehensive plan that will outline how each parish can pastorally and financially assist a local Catholic elementary school by January 1, 2008. Once presented, the plan will be offered for consultation and comment before it is implemented.
Our third goal is to provide and share resources so that each individual parish and school can profit from the strengths of the other and assist each other in the challenges that they may face. An essential resource is the participation of the laity in the planning needed to revitalize both parishes and schools. The means by which this participation can be best realized is through the consultative bodies that have been recently created or revitalized. For parishes, it is their finance councils and pastoral councils, and for schools, it is their school boards. These consultative bodies are not solely advisory, but have an essential responsibility of cooperation and co-responsibility with the pastor and the pastoral staff of the parishes. Pastoral councils and school boards exist to help revitalize the pastoral mission of each respective institution through the advice and leadership of its members. In the future, I envision that these two lay bodies will work collaboratively both on the local level and in dialogue with the clusters to help revitalize both parish and school life. To this end, I ask every Catholic elementary school to complete the process of establishing its own individual school board, or begin participating in a regional school board, according to the norms of canon law, diocesan particular law, and the norms that I have already approved, by no later than June 30, 2008. I know that this is asking for special cooperation. However, I believe that it is critical that we form these advisory bodies and give them true responsibility.
In the ongoing work of revitalizing parishes and schools, the clusters have a unique contribution to make. We must never forget that clusters were created with the main purpose to serve and strengthen the pastoral mission of parishes and schools. Collaboration must be the by-word that brings the parishes and clusters together. It is a learning process. It is not something at which we particularly excel, now or in the past.
Clusters can assist in the ongoing revitalization of both parishes and schools in two essential ways. First, the implementation of a meaningful cluster planning process will bring new vitality to the work that is being done to strengthen parish life, all through the pastoral planning process, and to our schools, through the drafting of their strategic plans of action. The prime purpose for creating a cluster pastoral plan will be to identify key mission priorities shared in a given area, and the ways in which resources and leadership can be shared to address them in a creative way. These plans would reflect parish priorities and these priorities should address the needs of all the parishes and schools in each cluster.
Second, clusters can help create a forum where local leadership, including the laity, can be consulted concerning the issues posed by the reconfiguration of parishes and schools. This consultation should include an ongoing dialogue with diocesan officials before any restructuring of a parish or school is enacted. We need to become proactive. Our consultation must be strategic and long-term. In the future, the implementation of the pastoral planning process will assure greater participation and more communication among the People of God as we make decisions regarding parish and school reconfigurations.
I ask that cluster pastoral planning begin in every cluster of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens no later than December, 2008. In order to create an effective process that does not increase the administrative burden placed upon our parish leaders, it will be necessary to devote the 2007-2008 pastoral year to achieve the following goals: First, on the diocesan level, the Pastoral Planning Office, in conjunction with other diocesan agencies, should make all the relevant data available to the clusters on an annual basis, so that they may utilize it for effective planning. Updated cluster and parish data reports should be made available by March 1, 2008. Second, I ask that the Pastoral Planning Office issue its final cluster planning process by November, 2007. In the spring of 2008, training for those who will be involved in cluster planning should be provided for those who are in need of it. As you can see, we have some immediate deadlines that, with God’s help, we will meet.
To further assist local leaders, I have asked the Diocesan Office of Information Technology to implement a comprehensive plan for electronic communication among all parishes and diocesan agencies by the spring of 2008. This electronic communication platform should be easy to use, effective, and reliable, while eliminating unnecessary paperwork and mail. For example, we need to create a single electronic statistical form which will replace the various requests for information that we make during the year. Another example is the unified mailing system that is transmitted to all parishes currently using First Class. It is my hope that we will continue to eliminate our use of paper, not only for its ecological correctness, but also for efficiency of delivery and use.
To ensure that each cluster will be ready to begin a meaningful planning process, some preparatory steps must first be taken. More specifically, in this pastoral year, I ask that each cluster monitor the progress and effectiveness of its individual parish pastoral plans; establish some permanent lay representation in its membership; receive and analyze all the cluster data associated with the mission, personnel, and temporalities of its member parishes and schools; and allow those who will be involved in cluster planning to receive whatever training they will need to execute this task effectively.


Our third priority towards realizing the New Evangelization in our Diocese is to provide future generations with competent, dedicated, and faithful Church leadership. While leadership must be developed in its broadest sense, we can never forget that without priestly vocations we cannot have effective leadership in the Church. We must provide the opportunity for every man who is called to a priestly vocation by the Lord to hear it, to respond effectively to that call, and to be formed to live that vocation in the unique circumstances of our Diocese. Those who are called to be priests in Brooklyn and Queens face new challenges, and so we need faith-filled men native to our Diocese, as well as immigrants, who can serve the needs of all.
I ask each parish to establish a parish vocation committee by June, 2008 which will serve a dual purpose: the committee will be responsible for praying for vocations in a public way. It will also assist the pastor in identifying and recruiting men and women for the priesthood and religious life. The Vocations Office, under the direction of Father Kevin Sweeney, and assisted by the newly formed Advisory Committee, will continue to provide new opportunities for vocational recruitment and discernment, including the establishment of the John Paul II House of Discernment that will open shortly.
Promoting vocations to religious life is also the responsibility of the Bishop as well as the entire Diocese. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the many members of the religious congregations and institutes that serve tirelessly in our parishes and schools. In addition to the traditional congregations that serve in our Diocese, new religious communities are seeking to come to Brooklyn and Queens and offer their service. We are continually open to any congregation that wishes to share pastoral work in this great Diocese of Brooklyn.
Our Diocese has also seen a flowering of the diaconal ministry, serving the people of our parishes, schools, and agencies. This past year, I had the privilege to ordain 54 men to the Order of Deacon, each bringing his own individual gifts and talents in service of the pastoral mission of the Church. I wish to thank the deacons of our Diocese for their generous service, and to encourage other men to be open to the Lord’s call to serve as His deacon.
The development and support of our lay leadership is also of crucial importance to the life and vitality of our Diocese. Our current program for the training of lay leaders has produced good results because it recognizes that, through baptism, each member of the Body of Christ shares in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, each according to their proper position. I encourage many more lay women and men to come forward and be trained in the various programs sponsored by the Pastoral Institute.
We should never forget that the proper place for the laity is in the world, transforming our society by lives of faithful service. They are also called to serve the communities of their parishes and schools. We should keep the roles of the laity and the ordained ministry distinct, so that they might complement one another and not blur their true relationship. We are called to increase our efforts to identify new parish leaders, form them correctly, and allow them the opportunity to exercise their baptismal mandate, in every parish, school and ethnic community. We can do this by giving a correct sense of the lay mission, not only to take ownership of their membership in the Church, but also by assisting them to sustain the responsibilities given to them.

Another diocesan priority in the New Evangelization is the ongoing, effective support of our Catholic families. My second pastoral letter was devoted to the family in the New Evangelization. Without families, there can be no New Evangelization. The family is truly our domestic Church. It is the place where the laity are formed and vocations to all life in the Church are developed. Families are the privileged place for formation of the faith, especially of our youth. Finally, families are the keystone of the foundation of our society; the values and services which our society needs are given by the family.
Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, of happy memory, stated that “the history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family.”12 The future vitality of the Church depends upon the health of all of our families. Without families, there would be no Church. For this reason, the goals of my second pastoral letter remain a key priority towards the establishment of a vital diocesan Church.

Another key priority is the establishment of an outreach, ministry, and service for our teenagers and young adults. Our youth are not only the future of our Church and society, but they are our most valuable asset. Whenever we consult the laity regarding their priorities for the Church, outreach and care for our youth is always a central concern. There is near-universal agreement that we should preserve and strengthen the faith of our youth. There are many distractions that keep our teenagers and young adults from practicing their faith. The culture in which we live is almost impermeable to the Christian message. Our response must be determined, imaginative, and sustained so that we might crack the shell of this culture, allowing our youth to be free to live a life that is faith-filled and satisfying. I ask that a comprehensive plan of action be created. With the collaboration of local and diocesan leadership, it will be coordinated under the leadership of the Office of Faith Formation. Over a five-year period, specific goals and objectives will be established to address the following:

  • The creation of an environment of welcome and acceptance for teenagers and young adults, mindful of the unique challenges that each face. This should be both parish-based and diocesan-oriented.

  • We must provide for their holistic, ongoing formation in the faith. This will necessitate new programs of Religious Education for all levels, in all circumstances where our young people are found today.

  • Teenagers and young adults must feel that they are invited to share their gifts and talents, so that they will assume leadership in the Church today and into the future.

  • We must address the specific needs of immigrant teenagers and young adults as they make their transition into the life of Brooklyn and Queens. They stand between two cultures, that of their parents and native countries, and that of the new country that is their home. A new understanding of these unique challenges must be addressed.

I ask that the Office of Faith Formation present a strategic plan of action to address this key priority for comment and review by the spring of 2008.

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