Note: Cardinal George was on vacation at press time and requested that the following reflection run in place of his column.
When Cardinal George came to Chicago 15 years ago, he was given a document called “Decisions,” which described a number of priorities for the archdiocese as a result of an extended planning process. The cardinal said that the “Decisions” document provided him with a picture of several important directions as he began his ministry in Chicago. He said this was very helpful.
Two years ago, the cardinal asked me to establish a committee to review the “Decisions” document and update the list of priorities for the archdiocese as we look to our future.
The cardinal said that he was thinking ahead to the time when another archbishop would be appointed in Chicago and he wanted to be able to present to him a revised plan for our future that would be helpful to him as he began his ministry.
To facilitate this planning, a steering committee was established of representatives from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Administrative Council, the Presbyteral Council, the Episcopal Council and one pastor from each of the six vicariates. This steering committee worked with resource people from McKinsey and Co. to review the research that already was available about the concerns of Catholics today, and they helped us to design an online survey to obtain a sampling of concerns of Catholics in the archdiocese.
Several important findings surfaced in this research. One finding was about our young people. The research showed that people who leave the church and never return to the practice of their faith do so by age 24. This finding underscored the importance of reaching out to our young people in their formative years.
Another finding was about Sunday Mass. Approximately 23 percent of our baptized Catholics still go to Sunday Mass each week. Another 25 percent attend Mass on a less frequent basis, about once a month, and they say that they recognize that they should be going more often but they just don’t get there for a variety of reasons.
This finding indicated the importance of reaching out to both of these groups (almost 50 percent of our baptized Catholics) to help them strengthen their desire to come together as people of faith to worship God and to nourish their souls with his love through Word and sacrament.
Another finding was how strongly parents felt about their children being able to receive all of the sacraments. At the same time, these parents did not feel adequately prepared to help their children understand the meaning of the sacraments they were receiving.
This finding highlighted the importance of reaching out to parents to help them grow into a deeper understanding and appreciation of the faith they strongly desire to share with their children.
Finally, most of the 8,000 people who responded to the online survey which was designed by the McKinsey group indicated that they desired a deeper relationship with God and they were looking for the strength to live out their faith. This finding underlined the importance of the sacramental life of the church as the means to encounter the living Christ and to be strengthened in his love.
On the basis of this research, the steering committee prepared a four year Strategic Pastoral Plan titled “Reflect Christ’s Light,” which dedicated each consecutive year to one of these important concerns: Year 1 is the Year of Teens and Young Adults (2011- 12), Year 2 is the Year of Sunday Mass (2012-13), Year 3 is the Year of Parents of children receiving sacraments (2013-14), and Year 4 is the Year of the Sacraments as the means of encountering the living Christ and being nourished by his love (2014-15).
Each year provides a theme for the archdiocese to focus its resources in different ways with one overall goal.
The primary hope of this “Reflect Christ’s Light” is to incorporate more deeply baptized Catholics into the life of the Church as a way to encounter the living Christ and to help them live out their faith in these challenging times.
Canary is the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Prior to this appointment in 2006, he served for 10 years as rector/president, Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein. Among his current responsibilities is the oversight of the archdiocesan Strategic Pastoral Plan, now in its second year of implementation.
For more information about the plan. visit www.archchicago.org/StrategicPastoralPlan.