A Catholic Monthly Magazine

New Wineskins

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

In our Archdiocese we are going through a process of structural review which will result in cutting the number of parishes by half. At present there are 46 parishes and one personal parish for Maori. The clergy are aging, with a third retired, some of whom are still working. There are two ordinations this year but no one in training after that, so the shortage of priests is not about to solve itself. On top of this, a percentage of church buildings are not earthquake proof,and face major upgrades tagged at $60 million, or closure. This points to a major change in how the local church carries out its mission.Wineskin2
A similar process is going on in every diocese in NZ, and by my observation in just about every diocese in Australia. It involves a new way of being church. This ‘new wine’ absolutely requires a new infrastructure, involving parishes sharing pastors. Lay pastoral leaders are being trained for ministry in these redefined parishes.
Another letter sits on my desk asking for help in educating priests in the seminary in Suva - their problem is that the seminary is “bulging at the seams”. Oh, for a problem like that! But that is the Pacific reality; it is not the NZ reality. Careful discernment in this diocese has not made more religious priests or importing of priests an objective. The surplus of priests in Asian dioceses is a thing of the past, and anecdotal evidence is that Dioceses that have in the past loaned priests are no longer able to do so. Moreover some of the dioceses that have sent seminarians to Suva are still being staffed by expatriates, and it makes no sense to send their young priests offshore.
A few years ago I was speaking with a senior formator of a religious order in Australia who had a new class of ordinands, all from the sub-Continent. He was remarking that each one received a laptop computer as an odination present from their families, but not one was willing to work in Australia. This is not ingratitude; it is a different call. We must “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches” Rev 2.7.Wineskins1
The new wine is the Good News of the Gospel presented in such a way that it meets the deepest needs of people of this generation, all called to holiness. If we persist in trying to achieve this through the present infrastructure, the old wineskins, we risk spilling the new wine of the Kingdom, and wasting it(Matt 9:17). It will take courage, and openness to change by all, and this will point the way to ‘a future full of hope’.

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