Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan has urged the faithful to reflect on what place Jesus is given in the Church’s efforts at evangelisation, as he challenged his staff to plan for growth in the diocese. 

Bishop Drennan said the “Kiwi drift” Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn talked about earlier is “very real”, even though Palmerston North diocese reported a “modest growth” in the number of Massgoers last year.

“I think we have to ask ourselves where has our talk of values and goals led us? They are easy to talk about. Talking about a person, Jesus the Christ, and his Church, is more difficult. Have we sometimes dismembered our faith from the person of Jesus and then also of the Church, his body?” he asked.

“No one marries a set of values. Similarly, we are not disciples of concepts and goal statements.”

Bishop Drennan challenged diocesan staff to plan for growth, statistically and spiritually, despite reports of falling numbers of Catholics in the Western world.

“Planning for growth ushers in a new kind of accountability for me and the diocesan staff. That certainly unsettles some people. Sure, we can’t force faith,” he said, but he pointed out that “growth needn’t be just statistical; it can be of insight or commitment as well”.

But he is pushing for increasing the number of Catholics in the diocese, too.

“Why wouldn’t I? It is a question of believing in ourselves, believing that faith is good for everyone, believing that participation in parishes enriches families in innumerable ways. Let’s say that!” Bishop Drennan stressed.

Asked where more growth might come from, he said, “from within. The large majority of ‘the drift’ still identify themselves as Catholic, and of course they are very present in our schools,” he pointed out.

“The need to reimagine our schools’ network at the heart of our parishes is crucial. It is a seamless relationship,yet still we fall into them and us talk,” he said.

He cited the opening of a new school/parish admin/mission centre in Hawera as an example that turns upside down that false division.

“The office of the parish priest and the principal are alongside each other, with a common entrance and gathering area. Symbolically that’s a big statement,” he said.

He noted that the unification of parishes in the diocese “is also bringing a renewed sense of belonging, purpose and mission”.

Bishop Drennan said growing the numbers of the faithful comes about in collaboration with the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is the opposite of passive. The Holy Spirit is dynamic; foretold in Old Testament Scriptures as the weaver, the artisan. So the Holy Spirit gets us away from our desks and into our streets, visiting, inviting, encouraging. And mercifully the Spirit is with us always! Thank God we are collaborators, not substitutes!” he said.