Hamilton’s diocesan pastoral council has suggested several reasons why numbers are declining at Sunday Mass.

In a forum made available on the Hamilton diocese’s website, the council was one of the first to respond in an early stage of an initiative from Bishop Stephen Lowe to introduce modules for prayer and reflection aimed at encountering Christ anew as in the Emmaus experience in Luke’s Gospel.

Under the title of “With Hearts Burning”, six modules are being released up to the end of 2018. Clergy, religious, parishes and schools and a variety of other groups in Hamilton diocese are invited to “study together the six spiritual and pastoral modules, sharing your reflections and faith and developing new ideas and initiatives for the diocese to set hearts burning”.

“With Hearts Burning” focuses on understanding the Emmaus mystery to interpret “our present reality”.

A forum made available on the Hamilton diocese website associated with the first module deals with understanding why people leave the Church/parish and what can be done in response. Reflecting on this “helps us understand something of their spiritual journey and our own journey”.

The module one forum goes on to state: “Understanding the challenges of the spiritual journey leads us to reflect better on what we are doing/failing to do as a parish/priest/parishioner and what we might do better or differently”.

Questions are posed on the forum, including “what are the underlying reasons for the decline in numbers?”

The diocesan pastoral council was one of the first bodies to respond, and their discussions were summarised.

To the question about reasons for the decline in numbers, the following answers were given: Unwelcoming communities; Have we lost the desire to learn about Christ? Lack of understanding and appreciation of the Mass; A lack of warm greetings; Ignorance of God; Unresolved hurts from the past; People are not finding what they are looking for in our church services; Work/ social/church balance; People are unaware of the need for a faith community; People are unaware of the need for God; Feel good mentality— people want a quick feel good fix; A lack of understanding/formation has led to prioritising things other than formal religious practice.

To a question about what this has taught you about the spiritual life, including that of those who have left, the following answers were given: There is still reason to be optimistic, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit; Perhaps those who have left don’t understand the spiritual significance of the Mass; God heals — Sometimes people come back; Some who have left still identify as spiritual.

In response to a question about how your community might respond to these reasons, the pastoral council suggested: “Family formation and catechesis.”

Another question asked “What has your parish and parish school learned from those who now go to Pentecostal churches?”

The diocesan pastoral council responded: “Pentecostal churches do pastoral work well — they do community really well, they do cell groups really well. We have learnt that we don’t do these things as . . . well.”

A further question asked “How aware is your parish and parish school of Catholics becoming members of another religion? What is it about other religions that seem so attractive?”

The pastoral council replied: “We are not particularly aware of a Catholics becoming members of other religions. We are aware of people entering into ‘new age’ spirituality. We must be aware of spiritual warfare and the power of prayer.”

Another question asked: “What processes [for] reconciliation does your school/parish have for people who have been hurt and left because of a community member? How often are these processes of reconciliation used?”

The DPC responded: “At a school level, some have processes of restorative justice. At a parish level, the processes are diverse. We acknowledge the need to improve the processes at a parish level. At diocesan level we are aware that Bishop Steve is promoting fidelity to the scripture passage Matthew 18:15.”

A tryptic (threefold icon) of the Emmaus mystery written by the Studio of John the Baptist will visit each parish and school in Hamilton diocese over the next 12 months. Bishop Lowe commissioned the icon and it was officially launched at a Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 17.

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