In a Pastoral message to be issued on 7th May, Vocations Sunday, the Bishop of Plymouth, Bishop Mark O'Toole has called on all Catholics in the Diocese to remember their fundamental vocation of being a 'missionary disciple', to bring others to faith in Jesus Christ, by being a 'disciple-making disciple'.
Bishop Mark highlights the challenging situation of Catholicism in the Diocese, and that there is a "crisis of disciples" more than a "crisis of priests". The total number of Church-going Catholics in the three counties of Cornwall (with the Isles of Scilly), Devon and Dorset amounts to less than 1% of the total population. That ratio is akin to figures in Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma), so "we are very much Mission territory", Bishop Mark notes.
Bishop Mark stresses that the motivation for sharing our Catholic faith is not the numbers but because "we believe that it is within the Church that we experience and encounter Jesus, we are given a path in which to follow Him, and deepen our love of Him. We love being His disciples, and we want others to be His disciples, too........Each of us is called to be a ‘disciple-making disciple’. Further, a local Church which is not making disciples is failing in a fundamental aspect of its life. And the question we must ask ourselves, therefore, is ‘are our parishes’ places that make disciples’?
Bishop Mark takes his inspiration from the actions and ministry of Pope Francis who describes the parish as a "sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey", (Evangelii Gaudium 27). Bishop Mark encourages all parishes to be "evangelising parishes" and offers eight traits which will help a parish keep its focus on reaching out to others so that they might know the beauty of an encounter with Jesus Christ. The eight traits are - Prayer, Vision, an Evangelising Team, the Eucharist, Loving Service, Rigorous Adult Formation, Small Groups, and Missionary Zeal.
Bishop Mark recognises that "Jesus is ‘an event’ which has happened in our lives and we want others to encounter Him, too, because we know that our ongoing encounter with Him is the only thing which brings real meaning and purpose to our lives. Trying to help others come into this encounter with Jesus is not just one more task among all the other things we have to do. It is the heart of what we do, and should be the criterion against which we judge all that we do."