D.1. Prayer Life And Spirituality
Guided questions were used to evaluate this aspect of DOPP evaluation. The following is a summary from the various reports:
(a) Encouraging Observations
It is observed that in the last seven years there is a tangible change in the life of faith and spirituality in the parishes. Some of the common signs that are singled out are:
- There is an overall increase in the attendance of the Eucharistic celebration, either daily or on weekend. Some parishes have to increase the number of Masses for Sunday to cater for the growing number of churchgoers.
- There is also a general observation that there is a marked increase in parishioners becoming more centred on the Word of God, with most of the parish groups taking the Word of God to more depth through various aspects like: Sharing the Sunday Readings in groups, Bible Study sessions, proclamation of the Word before meetings, etc.
- There is a reported increase in parishioners responding to commitment to services in the church. One significant activity that has been taken up by a few parishes is the ‘Organised Home Visits’ to families during Lent or Advent. It has helped to create an added element of the spirit of a ‘caring communion of Christ-centred communities’ among parishioners.
- A range of obervations that has been reported by the parishes which might show signs of growth in the life of faith and spirituality include the following:
>An increase in numbers of baptism in many parishes.
>Increase in the Sunday Mass collections in some parishes which could be due to increase in attendance and a greater sense of support for the church.
>A general increase in the number of children attending Sunday Children’s Liturgy and Sunday School, showing that there is a growth in parents’ awareness on the spiritual formation for their children.
>There is a growing awareness among some parishioners for their personal ongoing renewal and conversion through attendance of seminars, retreats, courses, etc. that are organised by the various groups in the parishes and diocese.
>A steady growth in prayer activities among some parishioners for eucharistic adoration, intercessory prayers, visiting and praying for the sick, a consistent practice of the groups in reciting the Diocesan Prayer during their meetings, etc.
>Some clergy and religious could attest the growth in their prayer life to the inspiration they found in the Vision and Mission of the Diocese.
>The number of people going to Confession during big feasts continues to surge over the years.
>The number of people renouncing pagan practices, especially after attending renewal seminars, too has increased over the years.
>A number of people going for pilgrimages locally and abroad.
When looking at the above positive developments, it is important to note that the change does not cover the overall or even the majority of the population of the parishioners.
It is experienced only in the lives of those who are involved in active groups and communities; that may make it seem like a “re-cycling” on the same group of parishioners rather than reaching out to the others.
This percentage in most instances reflects only about less than a quarter of the parishioners for smaller parishes in the rural and outskirt areas, whereas in the large and more urban parishes it involves only about 10 to 15 percent of the population.
It is also to be noted that the positive change does not happen all over the diocese; at least one parish has given a picture that “our parish is spiritually sick.”
(b) Discouraging Observations
While there are signs of positive changes in prayer life and spirituality, it is also observed that the Christian life of many parishioners is still left with much to be desired. The following observations are made in this aspect:
- There remains a gap between faith and life. The Christian love and spirit is not widely lived in homes, communities and workplace. There are comments from the individual surveys that some parishioners are putting on mask, “They are holy in church but crook once outside.” Gossiping, slandering, backstabbing and power struggling among some leaders continue to exist.
- Many parishioners are putting priority to outside social activities rather than activities organised by the parish.
- If we go by the Catholic population record, it is observed that a sizable number in parishes does not attend Mass in spite of the DOPP.
- It is observed that attendance in the Eucharist among certain sectors of the parish tends to be mere routine meetings of peers and close friends. Some find Mass “boring” and they become impatient if the service is longer than usual.
- Based on evaluation among the clergy, some gave the impression that they do not see the connection of the DOPP to prayer life and spirituality. Such perception might have contributed to an indifferent majority in the parish towards DOPP. Most parishes hardly mention about the DOPP. Only a few banners and posters on the Vision and Mission hang on church walls.
There is a lack of systematic promotion and formation on the understanding of the DOPP for the general parishioner. This is obvious from the list of parish activities and programmes where very few of the reports have mentioned about DOPP-related catechesis.
There is insufficient formation programme for the general parishioners that are attractive to help them in living their prayer life. Programmes seemed more “activity-oriented” than those that help to renew and form them.
(c) Some Reflections
It is difficult to assess the spirituality of a person from a mere glance or an isolated action. Hence, this part of the DOPP evaluation is most challenging. How would one see growth?
However, a prolong perseverance in prayer life, for instance, would be a good indicator of one’s relationship with God and hence influences his/her way of life.
Another sign might be one’s understanding and reflection of life based on the Word of God. It would provide a better insight into one’s mission in life within the salvific plan of God. But all these would require a sustainable period of observation and discernment which the evaluation process could not afford.
If the various reports have captured a realistic situation of the spiritual life of our people over the past seven years through a list of spiritual exercises and activities carried out by individuals and groups, then it is right that we give thanks to God for his blessings. For indeed there will be no growth without his intervention.
On the other hand, if external signs (in terms of increase in statistics and figures) are used to measure growth, without a prolonged observation of certain phenomena, then we might have a distorted picture of the spiritual life of our people, and remain either complacent or indifferent to change.
The question to ask is, “Is the increase in attendance to spiritual exercises a fruit of DOPP?”
One aspect of the DOPP evaluation is to look at the area of relationship among parish leaders and parishioners. To assist them in their evaluation, four elements from the Vision and Mission were identified for closer scrutiny and evaluation:
i. Caring: Are your parishioners showing concern for the welfare of others in the parish and society?
ii. Journeying together: Do the parish leaders (priest, religious, lay) move together with the people in moments of joy or sorrow, success or failure?
iii. Community minded: Do your parishioners always think of the good of the parish?
iv. Unity in communities: Since the DOPP, do you think your parishioners and the various groups/communities are becoming more united?
(a) Growth experienced
From the reports received, most of them indicated growth and improvement in the area of relationship among parish leaders and parishioners over the past seven years. Common indicators are:
- A good number of parish leaders and parishioners are reaching out to those in need, e.g. visiting the sick, spiritual and moral support to families in moments of bereavement, counselling, visiting social institutions, etc.
- Some parishioners are more generous in helping the needy and poor through contribution in cash or in kind.
- Special care for the elderly, the physically challenged, the youth, migrant workers, parishioners of minority cultures, etc. is emerging here and there.
- Some parishes have seen an increase in the number of parishioners participating in the various programmes and activities (liturgical, evangelical, spiritual, social celebrations, recreation, etc).
- Some parish groups and ministries support one another and are able to work closely in organising and participating in the various parish programmes and activities.
Efforts made by some parishes to enhance a closer relationship and to create a greater sense of belonging are:
- Organising seminars and catechesis to deepen the awareness of the importance of community building.
- Encouragement and awareness through the homily of the priests.
- Religious communities are integrating well with the laity.
- Some parishes organise activities to promote greater fellowship among their parishioners, e.g. gotong-royong, social gatherings, cultural and liturgical celebrations, Sunday parish breakfast sales, etc.
- A few parishes started to form Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) to enable greater and wider involvement of the parishioners in church life
- Interestingly, only two parishes mentioned the efforts of the parish priests and lay leaders in getting to know and interacting with the parishioners before and after Mass.
- One parish mentioned the ‘open door’ policy of its parish priest in welcoming parishioners to share ideas on how to better improve the parish by calling him anytime even to the extent to welcoming them to his rectory for coffee or tea to listen to them. Indirectly, this creates a positive atmosphere of family spirit and sense of belonging among the parishioners to the parish.
- Some priests are having regular fellowship and common prayer together.
- Through annual retreat, members of religious congregations are building closer relationship with each other.
(b) Setbacks encountered
While improvement and growth in relationship among parish leaders and the parishioners are commonly experienced, many parishes reported that it is still far from satisfactory and much room is needed for improvement. Common indicators are:
- parishioners still do not participate in parish programmes and activities.
- Parishioners seem to be cliquish and be among themselves.
- There is lack of awareness among the parishioners to give time and commit to serve the church.
- Cooperation only exists in certain groups and not as a parish community.
- Some parishioners serve the church with hidden agendas and for personal glory.
- Some parish leaders are selective and judgmental. They serve only those they know.
- There is still a lack of cooperation among parish leaders and groups, especially in terms of sharing of financial resources.
- Language, and in some places, race or cultural differences, seemed to be the common barrier encountered towards forging closer relationship.
- Some parishioners do not seem to be concerned or bothered with what is going on in the parish.
- Parish groups remain fragmented in thinking and action. Some still could see the overall picture of a parish community.
- Personal differences among some clergy and religious are not uncommon.
(c) Some reflections
Looking at all the reports, it can be seen that the DOPP has, to a certain extent, facilitated the growth of relationship and community building in the diocese as a whole.
Before the DOPP, as one parish reported, parish groups seemed to be more independent, concerned for its own welfare and in some cases, even competing with each other.
Since the launching of the DOPP, especially through the Parish Renewal Weekend organised in parishes at the end of 1997, catechesis on the Vision and Mission has emphasised certain keywords like ‘caring,’ ‘communion,’ ‘journeying together,’ ‘community’ and these seemed to have been picked up and efforts made at various levels to actualise them in parish life.
At the diocesan level, efforts toward this end have also been made with the PAX Assembly 1999 themed Communion that leads to Mission, ASIPA Seminar in 1999 which focused on building small Christian communities, the exhortations of the bishop in 2001 and 2003 PAX Assemblies, and the Pastoring Together with Jesus in the next 25 Years organised by the Catholic Pastoral Centre in 2002.
Through these, some people are becoming more aware of the need to grow and work closely together.
However, the many examples given in the reports indicate that the level of active participation and close relationship exists mostly among parishioners who are involved in the parish groups and ministries.
This explains why the same faces are seen in the various parish programmes and activities.
Though over the years there may be more parishioners joining the groups and ministries, however, the majority of the parishioners is not involved. They are the ordinary Sunday churchgoers who make sure they and their families attend Mass and receive the sacraments.
How then would the parish leaders reach out to them and include them in the life of the parish?
Many parish leaders would expect parishioners to join the parish groups and ministries and offer their services to the church. If not, they are considered ‘Retired Catholics’ (RC).
However, not all parishioners have the luxury of committing themselves to join a parish group or ministry due to other commitments.
How do we inculcate the sense of belonging to the parish and that their views and needs are being looked into?
To improve relationship among parish leaders, groups and ministries, what mechanism is needed to enable them to be able to set aside their differences, sit down, discuss, share resources, human and material, and work together to lead the parish towards fulfilling the Vision and Mission of the Diocese?
How can we motivate the parish groups to be outward looking instead of being cliquish?
In what way can the parish leaders and parishioners be involved in the decision making process of the parish while respecting their unique role and function as priest, religious and lay?
The Diocesan Vision depicts a relationship among people and that relationship is centred on Christ, journeying together, empowered by the Holy Spirit and is oriented towards mission.
Human relationship is a complex matter due to the varying personalites and situations around us. But if there is a genuine growth in prayer life and spirituality, all obstacles can be overcome.
D. 3. Ministries And Apostolate
The Diocesan Vision has spelt out a specific mission, namely, to carry out the “evangelising mission of building the Kingdom of God.”
The communion of Christ-centred communities has a purpose, that is, to share the Good News and build the Kingdom. It is against this backdrop that we are evaluating this aspect of our past seven-year journey.
The Kingdom of God, as based on the Our Father, is “where God’s will is done.” It is both here-and-now and not yet. The general manifestation of the presence of the Kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).
A key question to ask is: Have our ministries and apostolate brought about righteousness, peace and joy?
The following observations are collated and analysed from the various reports to provide a closer glimpse on the situation of our ministries and apostolate in the past seven years.
The positive observations below are termed “lights” because they shine out in the midst of the life of the communities:
- The findings in almost all the reports show that the number of pastoral programmes and activities carried out has increased in the past seven years. Many reports have long lists of activities, from preparatory meetings to home visitation, potluck fellowship, block rosary, praying with bereaved families and so forth. Many of such activities are initiatives taken to respond to particular needs.
- The number of formation programmes too has seemingly increased. Seminars, retreats, renewal programmes, talks, faith sharing, short courses were organised by the different ministries and apostolate groups for youths, women, families, catechists, RCIA facilitators and parishioners at large. Some programmes have been there even before the DOPP, others are fairly recent. The increase could be attributed to the availability of more resource personnel and materials.
- Over the past seven years, increase in the number of trained personnel (clergy, religious, lay) in the various disciplines (family, catechetics, youth, scriptures, theology, liturgy) has been seen as a positive sign for the local Church. A Church that keeps updating her pastoral agents is one that is proactive and responsive. Easy accessibility of formation resources through Internet and networking with movements outside the diocese likewise have generated a surge in formation programmes.
- Incidentally, the increase in the number of pastoral programmes also corresponds to the number of new church committees and groups formed after 1997. Some were set up in line with those recommended in the DOPP (e.g. Environment, Human Development, Finance, Education).
- It is heartening to know that the number of extraordinary ministers of communion, prayer leaders and volunteer catechists has multiplied in some parishes. It shows that the laity is coming forward to share the burden of the priests. It could also mean that there is a greater awareness on the part of the laity to take up their proper role.
- Religious congregations too have been proactively exercising their charisms to respond to needs expressed by church-based groups and individuals. Some of them have ventured into new apostolates which are non-traditional such as integral human development, income-generating, migrant, etc. The process of empowering the laity in such apostolates would surely bring about a new understanding of “mission.”
- When individual parishioners were asked whether they received support from church leaders (priests, religious, lay) to live their Catholic faith, 89 percent of them have answered “yes.”Presumably, the answer is influenced by what the various ministries and apostolate have impacted on some part of their lives.
- A few parishes have taken some initial steps in the form of sporadic activities (e.g. environment cleanliness, welfare service to the poor and needy, visit to prisoners and drug addicts, engaging programmes on integral human development, joint activities with other Christian churches, dialogue of life with people of other faiths through mutual help).Nevertheless, the number remains pitifully small and very much on individual basis. The parish community as a whole still does not get the message. When asked whether Catholics should promote justice and peace in society, more than 90 percent said “yes” but various reports are yet to show concrete actions on this matter.
- Some clergy have placed concerted efforts in the formation of their parish leaders through programmes such as “Discernment Weekend,” recollections, etc.
However, not withstanding the positive developments in the life of the local Church, there are also signs of concern which are termed here as “shadows.”
- The increase in programmes and activities draws our attention to the issue of participation. It is obvious that with a few exceptions, most pastoral programmes are organised and patronised by the same group of active people.
- Some of them are members of various committees or groups. They are “all over the place.” When this happens, it creates a situation of a zealous small group of parishioners who try to embrace and live the spirit of the DOPP on one hand while the majority remains mere churchgoers who are indifferent to the DOPP.
- The question is: “Why in the past seven years, despite the various efforts, about 85 percent of parishioners still remain uninvolved?”
- Some ministries and apostolate groups have ongoing formation programmes for their “members” to help them “grow”; others are struggling to keep their members “committed.” For those with constant fresh inputs, their members “are kept on their toes” and their zeal for service unwavering. But their constant and close interactions have somehow made the group exclusive where ordinary parishioners find it difficult to get in.Groups that merely emphasise the need to carry out activities are facing internal problems of uncommitted membership and no clear sense of direction. They become unattractive for others to join.
- The question is: “Are ministries and apostolate exclusive domain of some, so much so that they are personalised by the leadership?”
- The issue of hypocrisy is a point to be noted. Comments from the individual survey reveal that some actions taken by leaders are inconsistent with what they preach.
- The question is: “If the world today is more convinced by a life of witness rather than excellent rhetoric, what should be the basic approach in our ministries and apostolate?”
- The general picture captured in the parish reports reveals that many of the ministries and apostolate are organisational in their focus, that is, their efforts and resources are geared more for the growth or survival of the group or movement per se. Issues in the society are not much considered in their agenda.
- This is something understandable since for years now this is how “ministries and apostolate” are being perceived.
- However, DOPP was introduced to pave a new way of being Church. The spirit of DOPP indeed is a twofold movement, inward and outward. Through DOPP, people are to experience ongoing personal and communal renewal (inward movement) so as to enable them to be effective change agents in the society (outward movement).
- In other words, the inner transformation of a person is to be manifested in the way s/he lives and relates – to be yeast, salt and light to the world.
The question is: “In the past seven years, have the Gospel values been transmitted to the larger society through our ministries and apostolate?”
(c) Some Reflections
Going back to the Mission of our Diocesan Vision, namely, to build the Kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in our midst, we might find it difficult to evaluate it in a short span of time. We could only plant the seed through our words and actions; it is God who makes it grow.
- However, based on the various programmes and activities carried out, it could be said that we are still an “inward looking Church” where our ministries and apostolate are confined within our own fold.
- Many of our efforts could be seen as mere re-evangelising and catechising our faithful to live a righteous life. Involvement in societal issues as Church is yet to take place.
- Many reminders and exhortations have been reiterated since the launching of the DOPP on the move “to put out into the deep” (need to go beyond oneself and reach out to human cries and sufferings).
- Indeed, Vatican II has opened wide the mission of the Church to the “highways and byways.” The Kingdom of God is not confined to an ecclesial organisation called parish group or movement, the whole world is his vineyard.
- This is where the domain of our apostolate should be. It is here too we are called to be witnesses of the trinitarian love of God.
- The DOPP has captured it well. Obviously, the findings from parish evaluation have shown that the message has yet to sink into the traditional Catholic mentality of the local Church.
E. Challenges In The DOPP Implementation
In our efforts to implement and live the spirit of the DOPP, there are some challenges which have inevitably slowed down its process. They are outlined below:
Lack of in-depth understanding
In the individual survey, an average of 77 percent of the total respondents said they know about the Diocesan Vision and Mission.
But 15 percent of them said they do not take the Vision seriously. Knowing the existence of the Vision is one thing but understanding it is another.
Based on some comments from among the clergy and parish groups, it is obvious that a sizable portion of the local Church (priest, religious, lay) still does not have an in-depth understanding of the spirit of the DOPP.
Insufficient Grasp of the Process
The DOPP has adopted a process based on the “pastoral spiral,” a methodology (“See-Judge-Act”) widely used in Asian churches.
The methodology requires pastoral agents (priest, religious, lay) to be familiar with the process, to be single-minded in focus, and to have the endurance to undertake the task irrespective of changes in the pastoral environment.
It also means that every activity and programme should have a clear objective, an Action Plan and an evaluation upon its completion.
Ignorance of the process would dilute ownership of the Plan. The Pastoral Planning introduced since 1995 has yet to take root in the life of the local Church.
The DOPP is thus perceived as “a project of the diocese” in spite of many reminders that it is everyone’s responsibility to act on it, or at least, to live its spirit.
Extend of Preparedness
The DOPP is perceived as something “extra.” The evaluation shows that not all are prepared to venture into this since it would mean changing some of our ways of pastoring (indeed DOPP calls for a new way of being Church).
The question is, given that almost all lay pastoral agents have full-time employment and our pastors and religious already burdened with ongoing pastoral commitments, would it be possible to implement a plan that requires full-time effort?
For those who initiated the methodology, the lack of a proper monitoring mechanism was rather obvious.
The DOPP Core Group which was formed to initiate the move ceased functioning after the launching. It was assumed that parishes would move on with the DOPP based on the written document given out to all parishes. Yet, to this day, many are still waiting for “instruction from above.”
If the DOPP was supposed to have been owned by every parish and community, if the spirit of the DOPP has been properly understood and adopted, there is a dilemma on whether a centralised monitoring body such as the DOPP Core Group would be necessary.
Turnover of implementing agents
In the past seven years, there were seven ordinations and two parish pastoral council elections.
A few of the clergy have admitted their ignorance about the DOPP and many members of the existing parish pastoral councils have no clue at all.
Some of those who were at the DPPW and the DOPP launching are no longer at the frontline. Some religious congregations have changed their leadership.
The process of learning and relearning of what DOPP is all about causes undue delays. Without a stable team to implement and monitor, the process is distracted by other parochial or congregational concerns.
Global vs Local
The launching of the DOPP coincided with the first year of the global preparation for the Great Jubilee Year 2000.
Two years later in 2002, the silver jubilee celebration of the diocese too was not foreseen in the DOPP.
It was a challenging task to blend and integrate the global focus and local concern. There were questions as to whether the DOPP should take a “back seat.” But if one understands the “spirit behind the DOPP,” there is no clash of focus at all.
F. Our Forward Journey Towards The Vision
Learnings gained from the Evaluation
The evaluation exercise, as voiced out in many reports, has served as a “wake-up call.”
Many have developed a better grasp of what being “pastoral” is all about. Many too have a renewed hope to make DOPP work. One common cry from most parishes is how to mobilise the majority to be more participative in church life.
The DOPP has indeed started to sip into the minds of those who took the evaluation seriously.
Our next course of actions
Where do we move from here? This will be the matter for the delegates of the 2005 PAX Assembly to discern and deliberate together.
One pertinent issue which needs serious consultation is: Is our pastoral structure supportive of our journey towards the Diocesan Vision? Are our present parish or diocesan committees and groups able to form, organise and mobilise the majority in the evangelising mission of building the Kingdom of God?
What would be the other options which we are prepared to take to be a post-Vatican local Church in a society being swept by the process of globalisation?