The Diocese of Bridgeport is moving into an era where “Synod initiatives are coming to fruition,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his State of the Diocese address for the year 2016.
This year’s address was recorded at the Sacred Heart University video production studios in the new Martire Business and Communications Center and is available on the diocesan website.
“This is a time when many blessings continue to flow out of the synod,” said the bishop, referring to the launch of the Diocesan Leadership Institute, the ongoing parish strategic planning process and the formation of parish planning teams to move parishes forward in areas such as catechesis, liturgy and worship, and other areas of need.
This year also saw the expansion and renovation of the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of Clergy Residence for retired priests, and the decision to renovate the St. John Fisher Seminary in Stamford.
“The Spirit is moving us to renewal. The Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in the charities and other initiatives of the Diocese,” the bishop said. “I am confident our challenges will be resolved if we work together on our way to renewal.”
The bishop organized his report into major topics: spiritual life of the diocese; synod update, pastoral life, works of charity and justice, finance and real estate, and communications.
In the 34-minute video presentation through the use of PowerPoint slides and graphs, the bishop provided overall information on census, finances, new initiatives and ongoing challenges.
He reported census figures of 108,000 registered families representing 303,000 individuals. There are a total of 435,000 people who identify as Catholic in Fairfield County but who do not necessarily practice their faith.
He said he was encouraged by the first increase in years in the numbers for Mass attendance, Baptisms and First Holy Communions, but he was concerned with the overall declining numbers of students in religious education and said the diocese “must work to address and reverse these trends.”
A recently completed survey by the Catechetical Task Force found that 45 percent of parishes reported a decreased enrollment for religious education, while 25 percent noted an increase.
The bishop began his talk by focusing on the spiritual renewal in the diocese, which took shape in many ways, including the “Centers of Mercy” and the consecration of the diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which drew more than 1,500 people to St. Augustine Cathedral. It was also streamed live to more than 1,700 viewers.
Likewise, he said he was encouraged by the outreach to young people through the launch of the Catholic Service Corps and the success of the World Youth Day pilgrimage, in which 242 young people and their chaperones travelled to Poland last summer.
“I was never more proud of our youth as I was at World Youth Day,” the bishop said, noting that the pilgrimage helped to form young people in the faith and inspire them for years to come.
The diocese also engaged young people through activities such as the Diocesan Youth Choir, Convivio, the SHU “Journey,” Catholic Underground and CONNected Catholics, he said.
“Unlocking social media” through the use of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube has been instrumental in communicating with young people. More than 9,100 people “like” the bishop on Facebook and 3,295 are Twitter followers. The diocesan Facebook page also numbers 5,131 “likes.”
In the past year, the diocese also took steps to support priests and new vocations. The diocese began implementing a revised Diaconate Program, established a Council of Religious and announced the new Redemptoris Mater Seminary for missionary priests in association with the Neo-Catechumenate movement.
The bishop said St. John Fisher now numbers nine seminarians discerning a vocation, and an additional nine seminarians studying in major seminaries.
Steps to support diocesan priests include the initiation of workshops for newly appointed pastors, a retreat for the newly ordained, a healing and support team for priests dealing with addiction issues, and a new Spiritual Direction program offered through the Ignatian Spirituality Institute of Fairfield University.
In his section on finances, the bishop reported that “generally speaking, the financial situation of the diocese is improving. We’re close to achieving a balanced budget.” The diocese has made progress in reducing debt including the loan from the Knights of Columbus, which it expects to be cut by 50 percent by the end of the year.
However, the long-term unfunded pension and other post-retirement benefit obligations continue to be a concern and are being addressed, the bishop said. The diocesan Real Estate Office has helped to improve the financial picture by assessing and prioritizing diocesan properties into “Mission and Non-Mission assets” that can be sold or rented.
Last year, the Real Estate office completed sales of diocesan properties in Easton, Shelton and Stamford, and also the sale of an affordable housing facility in Bethel, he said.
The diocesan financial picture was also boosted by the success of this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal, which went $900,000 over goal and recorded the highest average gift in the country at $500 per contributor. More than 24,000 donated to the appeal. The diocese also moved toward cost savings and greater efficiencies through the work of the Strategic Planning Commission, which made recommendations in areas such as human resources, information technology, communications and data management, and purchasing.
Among the highlights and achievements in 2016, the bishop reported that Catholic Charities served more than 1.3 million meals to the poor, elderly and homeless and provided 15,000 clinical counseling and case management sessions.
The Safe Environment office completed 16,000 Virtus trainings for adults, and the diocese also conducted a special healing service for survivors of priest sexual abuse and for racial healing.
The complete PowerPoint presentation is also available online.