ARTICLE – Should we seek to grow the Church ?

Don Pigi Perini is an Italian priest who had been prepared for the lack of pastoral effectiveness.  During his studies at the seminary, the decline of the Church was theologized to the point of almost becoming a virtue: “One sows, the other reaps…”; “provided that Jesus Christ is proclaimed…”; “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies” many phrases from the Bible were used to reinforce a mentality of ascetic renunciation. Decline was justified by poverty, humility and other evangelical virtues! 

Once ordained, his parish ministry was focused on practicing Catholics, always the same, always more pampered, and whose numbers were gradually decreasing. This lasted for a few years until he found himself profoundly discouraged and faced with an inner choice: either to give up his vocation as a priest or to find new vitality and follow Jesus as a “fisher of men.

It was then that he heard about Saint Boniface Parish in Florida and decided to visit it. He found a fundamental orientation towards evangelization, warm hospitality, Eucharistic adoration, vibrant praise, small evangelization groups and a large number of lay ministries. The laity had a very good knowledge of the Scriptures and experienced the baptism of the Spirit.  When he returned to his parish, he shared his experience with his community and suggested that they adopt this missionary orientation. He selected lay people and trained them to lead small evangelization groups and gradually the parish began to revive and grow. With a pastoral vision where evangelization is the priority and on forming small group leaders this pastor was able to rediscover the true nature of his priesthood and the joy of ministry.

Pastors of missionary parishes all have the same conviction that God wants His Church to grow. Christians are sent by the Lord to make disciples, to seek and save the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14). This does not mean, of course, simply to multiply the number of people in the pews. It is rather to multiply the number of people who discover God loves for them and that a relationship with Him is possible. 

What is to be pursued is to invite people and bring those who do not know Christ (Matthew 18:12–14) into a true life in God. This is our mission, Jesus wants to build his Church with living stones, with new disciples (Matthew 16:18; 1 Peter 2:5, Matthew 28:19). God does not want anyone to be lost (Matthew 18:14) but that all benefit from his mercy and love and thus enter into the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:7).

Pierre-Alain Giffard

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