Bishop Frank J. Caggiano is challenging all of us in the Diocese of Bridgeport to renew, rethink, reengage, and rejuvenate our personal faith and our institutions (parishes, schools, diocesan offices). Through the Fourth Diocesan Synod, more than 350 delegates from a broad cross-section of the diocese spent a year examining the landscape and challenges facing the diocese and proposing recommendations to address those needs. Now that more than two years have passed since the closing of the synod, we must ask ourselves, “how are we as a diocese (diocesan offices, clergy, staff, laity) progressing in moving our synod vision forward”?
The Synod Closing Mass at Webster Bank Arena was an historic moment in the life of the diocese of Bridgeport. It brought together more than 8,000 faithful from throughout the area to celebrate the conclusion of Synod 2014. The question for all of us now is whether the synod will be a one-time historic event, or will it serve as a formational moment regarding how we think about the Church and how we carry out our roles as ministers and lay faithful? How have the men, women and children throughout the diocese taken the message of the synod to heart?
Just as we encourage all our institutions to engage in the best practice of evaluating, updating, and reporting on their strategic and pastoral plans on a regular basis, so too must all of us. What has been the impact on our institutions: the Catholic Center, our parishes, schools, and affiliated organizations?
There is no doubt that a rejuvenation has started within our diocese. We see this in the work of our clergy, our lay leaders, the catechists, the faculty and administrators in our schools, and all the lay faithful. All of us are coming together to create more vibrant and sustainable schools and parishes for the future, and even more importantly, people are actively seeking to deepen their own faith, develop a closer personal relationship with Christ, and accompany those who are disengaged.
Yet….are we really carrying the mission statement created by the synod delegates as the foundation for all that we are doing? “Our common mission is to foster personal conversion and deepen each disciple’s relationship with the Lord Jesus in the community of the Catholic Church.”
The overarching theme of all that we have tried to do is to help evangelize and accompany people in their search for Christ. Does that simple sentence form the foundation of all the actions undertaken in our diocesan Catholic Center, our faith communities, and our schools? Are we operating with the synod principles as our guides? Principles of continuity, accompaniment, creativity, accountability and transparency, among others, must underpin our actions.
Driven by Bishop Caggiano’s desire to hear from the faithful, prayerfully discern the challenges facing the diocese, and identify responses to those challenges, the synod delegates approved a series of recommendations and initiatives designed to evangelize our diocese, accompany individuals—one person at a time—and solidify the diocese in the present and pivot to the future. Listed below are brief updates on the major initiatives:
Strategic Planning Commission:
The Strategic Planning Commission was established and tasked with bringing change to the Catholic Center and the curia by positioning it to be more efficient, cost-effective and responsive to the parishes and schools. A group of respected business leaders brought their experience and insight to a variety of concerns identified by the delegates in the areas of communications, information technology, human resources, and procurement and shared services. For example, a revamped Human Resources Department, led by a new chief human resources officer, has been able to more effectively respond to the needs of our parishes, schools and Catholic Center community.
In the area of Information Technology, led by a recently hired senior director of technology services, the diocese is working to streamline, unify and update all technological resources to bring the diocese well into the 21st century. In the past, technology decisions were made on an ad-hoc basis, without thought to integration or technical support. The technology team is also bringing its skills and knowledge to work directly with parishes and schools on their technology needs.
The diocese continues to update its communication methods to respond to the changing way individuals consume information. Led by Fairfield County Catholic, one of the strongest Catholic newspapers in the country, members of the commission have worked with the director of communications and the social media coordinator to identify new methods of outreach to youth, young adults and other previously underserved communities. How can we (all of us) share the message of Christ and the good works that are taking place within the diocese?
A fourth area of study has been to look at how the diocese, parishes and schools steward their resources. Are there ways to share services, affect cost savings, and free up resources that can be utilized for mission rather than operations?
A comprehensive pastoral planning process was undertaken in all parishes. Parishes were asked to create planning teams to look at five priority areas identified by the synod; Liturgy and Worship, Family Life, Evangelization, Leadership and Catechesis and Education. In addition, Bishop Caggiano asked them to look at their finances, buildings and facilities, and community life. The submitted parish pastoral plans, fully published on the diocesan website at www.bridgeportdiocese.org/strategic-planning, create a mechanism by which all aspects of pastoral life are intentional, mission-driven and open to review and evaluation. These plans have been created to help parishes be pastorally vibrant and sustainable for the long term.
Parish planning teams are asked to review the plan each year with the pastor and parish staff to keep the parish moving forward. The goal is that intentional planning will become fully integrated as a part of parish life each year.
Catholic Service Corps:
The Catholic Service Corps (CSC) was created to provide opportunities for all the faithful, especially young people, to deepen their relationship with Jesus and broaden their Catholic faith through prayer, meaningful service to others and theological reflection. The Catholic Service Corps seeks to change the way that young people serve and show that love makes the difference. Service opportunities for people of all ages are posted on www.catholicservicecorps.org, with pictures, videos and reflections from service projects shared on social media. Resources for prayer and theological reflection are on the website, and those who serve are encouraged to upload their reflections to show how service makes a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
The Leadership Institute is a new, nationally-recognized, model of ministry. It has been created and designed to provide ongoing, systematic formation and support for all those in ministry in our parishes and schools. Through an online learning portal, www.formationreimagined.org, face-to-face workshops and independent study, the institute is offering creative opportunities for individuals to learn more about their Catholic faith, focusing on encounter, formation and discipleship.
In partnership with the Mater Ecclesiae Foundation, the institute has also launched the Face of Prayer campaign. Recognizing the changing way young people in particular receive and process information, the Face of Prayer is a multi-media campaign encouraging all who sign up with prayer texts, video catechesis and an electronic prayer wall. Since its inception in 2017, more than one million prayers have been offered across this country and around the world.
Catechetical Task Force:
The Task Force met over an 18-month period to dive deeply into all aspects of faith formation and catechesis. At the end of that period, a call for renewal was issued by the bishop. Our faith communities are challenged to re-imagine faith formation at every stage of development, from baptism through ministry to older adults. The Office of Faith Formation, through the Invitation to Lifelong Formation, offers guidance and support to those parishes that identified catechesis and formation as a priority in their pastoral plans. The document, which can be found at www.formationreimagined.org, provides a roadmap to think creatively and explore new models of ministry. Indicators of effective ministry and recommendations are offered to guide catechetical leaders.
In particular, synod delegates heard repeatedly that there is one, if not two, generations of Catholics who may not be properly catechized in their Catholic faith. If parents are the “primary teachers” of their children, all must be evangelized and formed along with the children so that a closer and deeper relationship with Jesus will be developed. Do we want young people and their parents to encounter the person of Jesus or simply learn facts about the Church?
In conjunction with the information gleaned through the work of the Catechetical Task Force, it became evident that liturgical practices across the diocese varied greatly. In conversations with the clergy and lay catechetical leaders, the commission was established to look at how and when sacraments are celebrated, seek greater uniformity, and strengthen liturgical practices in parishes.
Support for Priests:
The delegates called upon the diocese and the bishop to create concrete measures to support our priests in “holy and healthy living.” Recognizing the changing nature of ministry that priests face in the 21st century, a six-month planning process led to a Presbyteral Assembly and subsequent conversations that focus on supporting our priests. Some of the initiatives include: provide funding for continuing formation for priests after ordination, increase yearly education and formation opportunities for new pastors (including an overnight retreat that allows experienced pastors to share their insights and experiences with those becoming pastors for the first time) and alternative rectory living arrangements to strengthen fraternity.
In addition, a new status of “senior active priest,” which allows men to step back from administrative duties while still undertaking ministerial duties, has lessened the burden for our older priests. The creation of the deanery model allows local parishes and clergy to examine collaborative opportunities. The formation of the Diocesan Addiction Support and Healing (DASH) team offers support and encouragement to men in recovery from substance or behavioral addictions.
The Council of Religious and the Diocesan Pastoral Council have been established and provide consultation, guidance and support to Bishop Caggiano and diocesan leaders.
We have made a great deal of progress over these last two years and rightfully should be recognized and celebrated. However, challenges remain as the diocese moves forward. The cultural changes that have come to the Church over the last few decades have left some people disillusioned, angry and frustrated, while others have celebrated what they view as necessary changes to evangelize a very different world. Technological advances and changes in how all institutions are viewed by the society at large provide both obstacles and opportunities for us. The diocese is faced with the need to better communicate to all the faithful the good news of Christ and the good news that is taking place in our parishes and schools.
At the same time, there are ongoing financial implications to building on the work of the synod. How do we stand with each other, with Bishop Caggiano, and with Christ, to love and support each other as well as the stranger among us?
Our journey is designed to build upon the past, to reach out to those in our pews today, to reach those who have drifted away, in order to set the Church in Fairfield County on a path to long-term vibrancy and sustainability. We are called to broaden our vision of Church. We are called to accompany all those who search for Jesus. We do all this in the community of the Catholic Church, centered on Christ—we are not alone, and in fact, we cannot do this alone.
Step forward and get involved in your local parish ministry or school classroom. Reach out your hand to someone who is hurting, or to someone who is questioning. Pray with an open heart and open mind. “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).