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Everyone Wants to belong to a parish they love.

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What does your dream parish look like? Everyone’s answer is a little different, but more than likely many of the same themes will come to mind.

Full churches. Joyful people. A pastor who is passionate and present to the faithful. Abounding generosity. Great music and homilies. Functional and beautiful spaces. A community that draws you closer to Jesus and helps you spread His love to your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.

A place of welcoming, belonging, hope, peace and love.

But let’s be honest for a moment; for many Catholics there is a large and growing gap between what they dream their parish would be and what it really is. That doesn’t mean we don’t love our parishes. We do. Most engaged Catholics passionately love their parish. But I think we can all recognize there are things that could be better.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati sees that too, and that’s why Archbishop Schnurr has announced Beacons of Light, an initiative to plan for the future of our parishes.

“The Lord has blessed our Archdiocese with many good things over its first 200 years,” said Archbishop Schnurr. “It is our God-given mission and responsibility to be good stewards of those gifts. At certain times throughout our history, this has required us to take a step back to seriously and honestly evaluate how our resources are distributed, to ensure they meet the present needs of the faithful. Now is one of those times.”

Beacons of Light is a multi-year process of pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Archbishop Schnurr has assembled a team to lead this initiative and create a process for evaluating the current reality and needs of our parishes. This includes meeting with outside consultants who specialize in diocesan and archdiocesan planning; listening to the perspectives of pastors and priests and soliciting the participation and feedback of the faithful.

While our parishes are filled with wonderful people, staffed by mission-focused leaders and led by holy priests, there are many factors – some of which are completely out of the parish’s control – which, when taken together, diminish parish life.

Religious practice is declining nationwide. Fewer people are engaged in their faith. We see evidence of this every Sunday. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the average Sunday Mass is about one-third full.

Demographics in the Midwest are changing. The Catholic population is moving south. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the number of Catholic parishes in Ohio decreased by 171 from 1971 to 2018 while the number of Catholic parishes in Florida, for example, increased by 165 over the same time span.

In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, our resources are spread too thin. Our current infrastructure and schedules were built for a different era.

These are just a few factors among many. Combine these factors and you are left with the current reality most Catholics experience: most of our church buildings are grossly underutilized, our priests are stretched to the limit, and many of our parishes are not the vibrant communities of faith we dream they would be.

Beacons of Light is a process that will unfold over the next few years, and it has only just begun. While the team appointed by Archbishop Schnurr – led by Father Jan Schmidt, Director of the Department of Pastoral Vitality- has begun meeting with consultants and collecting data from parishes, there is still so much more to come.

When asked how he would like lay faithful to participate, Archbishop Schnurr said, “I would like lay faithful to engage with the process by learning about Beacons of Light and staying informed. I would like them to encourage their fellow Catholics to get involved. I would ask them to give us their feedback and know that we will listen. And, most importantly, I would ask them to pray. As we embark on this process, let us together ask for the intercession of our Blessed Mother that God continue to bless us with His presence and His love.”

The Beacons of Light team has created two resources to help you be heard and stay informed.

First, every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati should visit CatholicAOC.org/Beacons and sign up for the Beacons Update. This free, monthly newsletter is delivered right to your inbox and is filled with updates on what is happening, plans for what will happen next and the opportunity to give feedback or ask questions.

Second, while on the Beacons of Light website at CatholicAOC.org/Beacons, download the Beacons of Light overview, a four-page PDF available in English and Spanish, which explains the entire Beacons of Light process in greater detail.

Look for further coverage of this endeavor on TheCatholicTelegraph.com and in the upcoming issues of the magazine. And throughout this process, we encourage you to pray for Beacons of Light, Archbishop Schnurr and the entire archdiocese as we all work together toward the future of hope that God has in store for us.

This article appeared in the July 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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