Posted February 1, 2008
On the Changing Model of Parishes
Interview With Father Yves le Saux of the Emmanuel Community
By Gisèle Plantec
If a pastor in a parish today wishes to have souls to care for, he needs to go looking for them, says the leader of the priests of the Emmanuel Community.
Father Yves le Saux, general delegate for ordained ministry of the Emmanuel Community, spoke with ZENIT during a conference under way in Rome on "The Parish and the New Evangelization."
The congress is organized by the Emmanuel Community and the Pontifical Institute Redemptor Hominis. It ends Friday.
Priests in the Emmanuel Community are diocesan priests under the authority of their respective bishops who allow them to be members of the group.
Q: Is there a future for parishes?
Father Le Saux: Today, in different regions of the world, some are wondering about the future of parishes.
I think that the parish is and will continue being the principal and privileged space of the life of the Church. By nature, the parish is the place where the Christian community meets. It has the vocation of welcoming all Christians around the Eucharist, around Christ, also through the ministry of the parish priest. The parish is the place where every Christian, every baptized, independently of his sensitivity, his personal charism, can live and be integrated into ecclesial life.
That said, the model of the parish in which the pastor is there, in the midst of its community, available for all the people to go to, is no longer sufficient today. If a pastor wishes to still have sheep, he should go to find them. Today, the parish should be understood as “mission territory.” It seems to me that perhaps the term “mission territory” has to be added to the term parish so that the priest and Christians who live in a determined place can enter into a dynamic of announcing the Gospel.
Said in another way, does the parish have a future? Yes, on the condition that it is missionary.
Q: What advice could you give to a pastor who has a deep consciousness of the evangelizing role of his parish but who feels alone facing this challenge?
Father Le Saux: It is clear that the responsibility for the mission should not fall on only one man. I think that today the parochial function should not be entrusted to only one man, but to a team of priests who have a demanding community life and who are prepared for working together in the mission.
But this is insufficient. Today a parish priest has to be surrounded by the baptized who share with him the same missionary drive. The priest who feels alone should, in principle, have the objective of surrounding himself with people who not only evangelize with him, but who also pray with him, reflect with him, have a Christian life with him.
That being said, I think that there is also a responsibility of the bishops themselves, who should be on guard to not leave a priest alone. A man alone, even with a lot of help and talents, remains limited in his fruitfulness.
Today the world needs witnesses, not only individuals, but also groups. This restlessness corresponds not just to the priest but also to the baptized, who should accompany their priest and also their bishops, who should be preoccupied about not leaving their priests alone.
Q: Ecclesial movements sometimes have more consciousness of the importance of the new evangelization than parishes, but they hesitate in committing themselves in the parishes for fear of losing their identity. What is your opinion about this?
Father Le Saux: A movement is not there to defend its identity. We can see that more and more, the communities and movements place their own charism at the disposal of the parish. This is only possible if the people involved return to a true ecclesial sense and do not reduce the Church to their own experience, even if it is very powerful.
The parish cannot be the parish of a community, of a concrete movement. But the parish can be the place where the charism of a community, of a movement, can be put into action on the condition that it is not exclusive.
Two temptations exist that have to be avoided: that of a parish priest who uses the communities or movements simply as objects, using the people without taking into account their own vocation or charism, which makes it impossible for them to give what God gives them.
The other temptation is that a community, a movement, uses the parish to promote itself.
But today there are fruitful experiences in different parts of the world.
The conference that we are having aims to reflect on all of this and evaluate the conditions necessary for facilitating the sharing of the communities and permitting parishes to be missionary spaces.