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Friday, March 24, 2017
Challenges facing Augustinian parishes
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¬†The appointment of Fr Michael Campbell OSA, an Augustinian friar, as Coadjutor Bishop of Lancaster, by Pope Benedict XVI on 12 February has been greeted with great excitement by his Religious Order in England and Wales, writes Peter Jennings. Fr Bernard O'Connor OSA, aged 80, a member of the Augustinian community in the Harborne district of Birmingham, however, highlighted the challenges that now face not only the newly appointed bishop, but also the Augustinian Order and its parishes during a challenging sermon on the Second Sunday of Lent, 17 February. Preaching at 11am High Mass at the Augustinian parish of St Mary's, Fr O'Connor, who comes from Dublin, said: "Once the excitement of the news had died down the realisation began to dawn that somebody would now have to take his place as Prior and Parish Priest in Hammersmith, West London, one of our biggest community and parish." Fr O'Connor, who was ordained in 1955 and appointed to St Mary's Parish in 2001 said: "A major vacancy, totally unexpected, has arisen. It creates a problem for us that I am not sure how we are going to solve. The fact is there is nobody to take his place, unless we move somebody out of some other locality, which creates a problem somewhere else. "That, however is the scenario for the future in the Church ≠ and I do not mean in ten years' time. I mean from now, from this moment. It is a problem that Fr Michael will have to face in his new diocese. You can see the situation for yourselves here ≠ and we are better staffed than most other churches. Around the country, a large section of the priests who remain are in their seventies and even eighties, and they still struggle on quite happily. But that situation cannot last much longer. "These are facts. We could spend our time lamenting and blaming all sorts of people and influences. But that would be futile. Rather should we not recognise that the Holy Spirit is saying something to us, is challenging all of us ≠ challenging all of you, you who are the Church." Fr O'Connor said: "The superfluity of priests and religious in the second half of the 20th century was exceptional in the history of the Church. The challenge for the future is for you, the laity to take on ever greater responsibility in the life of the Church. Already in this and in many parishes a great number of people are involved in ministry, in catechetics and in social apostolate. So we are not starting from zero. "We need more people to be so involved, and not simply performing tasks but taking ownership of the Church. We need some to take on overall responsibility for the parish community, forming a group with vision, building a community of prayer, nourishing the spiritual life of the parish community through prayer, meditation, scripture reflection, prayerful celebration. There would need to be somebody to hold the group together, probably a full-time permanent deacon." "Could you imagine this parish one day, perhaps before very long, not having a resident priest, at best having a priest visiting to say Mass on Sunday or even less frequently? How would you cope? Would you have the strength to persevere in your faith? Would you be able to communicate your faith to your children? These are difficult questions, but now is the time to begin facing them and to begin planning for the day which seems ever more inevitable, ever more urgent." Fr Bernard O'Connor concluded: "These are all challenging issues that face the Church of today and tomorrow. Young people should start asking themselves, What is the level of my commitment? How would I cope without the support of the preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of the Eucharist? What can I do in my life, what can I give in order to build up the life of the Church community so that it remains, for all its faults, a living, vibrant influence for good in the world? "On our side there is the assurance of Christ: he died in total failure, but rose from the dead so that his people increased and multiplied in a very short time. So, it shall ever be. But he, even he cannot do it alone. He needs us, he needs you."
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