What does Pope Francis expect from parishes? Generous, open communities near to all
- The new Pope Video calls parishes to truly be communities: places of listening and welcome whose doors are always open.
- Pope Francis’ message places the accent on parishes functioning as “schools of service and generosity” where people can “find the gift of the sacraments.”
- At the same time, the Holy Father asks us to be “daring,” to be able to rethink “the style of our parochial communities.”
(Vatican City, January 30, 2023) – The second Pope Video of the year has just been published with the prayer intention that the Holy Father is entrusting to the entire Catholic Church through the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. This February, Pope Francis, with a smile, invites every parish to put a sign on their door saying, “Free Admission.” With these words he wants to remind all of us that there are no special requirements for entering, because “parishes are not a club for the few, which give a certain kind of social belonging.”
The riches of the Church
The outside of a beautiful but empty parish church; then, the same church, but full of people, which thus becomes even more beautiful. Thus begins The Pope Video this month, reminding us that the riches of the Church are not in its buildings, but in the people who go there. Indeed, parishes in Francis’ vision are “close-knit communities, without bureaucracy, people-centered —a place where the gift of the sacraments can be found.”
The images, which come from parishes around the world, show get-togethers, talks, the distribution of aid to those most in need, visits to the elderly and the sick, pageants, and internal or external events. It’s a video full of life, the life that flows in parishes and that continues to make them – in a world in which it’s easier and easier to close in on oneself and which tends to prefer virtual places of encounter to in-person ones – reference points for many people, where they can learn the art of encounter.
The Church in the midst of the homes
Already in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, published at the beginning of his pontificate, Francis highlighted the centrality of the parish: “While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes,” he wrote, quoting an expression of John Paul II in Christifideles liaci, parishes have the peculiarity of being “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.” This is why it should be “in contact with the homes and the lives of its people” and not become “a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.” But this “call to review and renew our parishes,” he added, “has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people.”
Rethinking the parish style
In this Pope Video, the Pope insists on the idea of parishes continuing along this path of transformation, and being a center of welcome and listening: “They have to become once again schools of service and generosity, with their doors always open to those who are excluded. And to those included. To all.” We can succeed, he says, by being “daring”: rethinking “the style of our parochial communities” and “placing communion – communion of people, ecclesial communion – at the center.”
The people at the center
Fr. Frédéric Fornos S.J., the International Director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, commented on this prayer intention: “A few years ago, Francis told the Italian diocese of Isernia-Venafro: ‘Every parish community is called to be a privileged place of listening and of proclaiming the Gospel; a house of prayer around the Eucharist; a true school of communion.’ Listening, prayer, and communion: these are essential synodal characteristics for parish life. Butto do this, they need to really be communities, with the people at the center, because we are truly a community when we know each other, know each other’s names, needs, and voices. How often is it the case that parishes have become a group of more or less unfamiliar people who meet for Mass on Sunday, but without community life? It’s a great challenge. Being a Christian community is a grace, born from shared faith, from the lived experience of fraternity, and from welcoming those most in need; born from a shared spiritual experience, from an encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ. As Francis says in The Pope Video, “let us be daring” when it comes to listening to the Holy Spirit; “Let us all rethink the style of our parochial communities.”
Click here for the Pope video