Parishes for MISSION  #2

Witness Dialogue Dimensions

SVD Mission Secretariat - Rome - 29 January 2002

The 15th SVD General Chapter called for specific efforts to clarify and enhance the missionary profile of the parishes where we work. This occasional email bulletin shares ideas, opinions, resources and hopes about SVD ministry in parishes.

In this bulletin: 

1. Introduction - Traveling Teams and/or Permanent Commitments

2. CHI - Social Outreach in Mary, Queen Of Peace Parish 

3. Paul Becker - Being-Into-Everything; Being-With-Nobody

4. Subscribe to Parishes for MISSION


In some parts of the world it is not unusual to hear the statement that, "We SVDs should be getting out of parishes and getting into specialized ministries." The debate can grow somewhat heated at times. An alternative to parish ministry that some propose is a team of confreres to travel to many different parishes to offer courses, workshops etc. Paulo Becker SVD shares some of his thoughts on the matter in this edition of Parishes for MISSION .

I met Paul last year in March during a visit to some of the confreres working in parish-based ministries in Chile. He lives in Santiago, near the chapel of Jesús Resucitado. The chapel is one of many in a large urban parish,
Maria, Reina de la Paz, which is served by a team of diocesan, religious and lay ministers. Paul sends a brief description of how he became involved in the parish and he includes a somewhat "spicy" comment on the need to "stay put" and "stay close" to the people in order to be effective in ministry.

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On March 18, 1992 I took on the responsibility of being an associate pastor in the parish of San José de Garín, serving the communities of San Alfonso, Jesús Resucitado and Inmaculada. Observing the situation of the community at San Alfonso, badly affected by the years of conflict from 1973 to 1989, I came to the realization that this community required greater support. 

After clarifying the community needs we went to the local municipal government to secure a bit of land next to San Alfonso chapel. With the help of the archdiocese an agreement was reached. After three years, and more than three hundred letters, it was possible with the cooperation of many friends, various parishes and institutions in order to establish a center for social service. The new center would work in close collaboration with the existing "El Carmen Vocational Institute."

Three fundamental ideas give focus to the center's mission: 

After years of intense work it was possible to lay the first stone - which was blessed by Leo Cornelio, then a member of the General Council and now bishop of Khandwa in India. Construction began on May 9 and the building was completed on October 31, 1997; but the work of community-building was only just beginning.

Now four years have passed and each year since then has witnessed the presence of an average of 220 students at the center. This contact has opened doors for both human development and for an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist. Many families have come to share their problems with us and to let us know that they want to be able to count on our presence. 

I think that human development is Christian development - or perhaps it is the other way around. As a result of the work at our center, the new parish to which we now belong, Maria, Reina de la Paz, has given great importance to social outreach. The center has also attracted the attention of the local authorities. All sides of our humanity require careful nurture and so the Church must care for the integral development of the whole person. Juan Pablo II has said: "The new name for peace is - sane and just development." And so we are attending to important matters through our development activities. If a person or a team is in continual movement from one place to another, he or they can never come to a clear understanding of the needs of people in a specific place. And abundant expertise does not manage to tune in to the specific needs of people who require the help that can be given in the name of our Lord.

[You can contact Paulo at ]

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There are both pluses and minuses to be considered in relation to the idea of moving from parish to parish, taking care of a variety of particular pastoral concerns, rather than making a permanent commitment to some specific parishes.

We constantly speak about "accompanying" the people, and we speak about priests staying close to the people. So it seems to me that visits cannot take the place of an ongoing commitment to a particular place at the grassroots. We are so often absent because of a variety of different work commitments, and thus the people complain about the absence of priests from the parishes. A bishop told me a while ago: I wish I could tie the priests to their parishes.

It's normal for people to seek out folks that they know. I don't deny that many people need some particular specialized help, but there are also many people who need the presence of a priest, one they know, just as the apostles needed Jesus' presence. The permanent presence of a priest is important. Running all over everywhere, making no pastoral commitments with anyone in particular can bring a lot of distraction into our missionary service.

I don't deny that a professor, a teacher must fulfill his particular responsibilities; but a parish priest is a pastor-shepherd with his flock. If the pastor is never present - because he is off fulfilling some specialized role - then he fails in his core task. It is good to have a team for bible work, it is good to give retreats and workshops. But one needs both team activities and the permanent presence of a pastor. 

Sometimes I am left with the impression that some of our confreres do not want to stay with the people at the grass roots - taking care of everyday concerns, responding to the needs of individual persons, sharing life with them. It is a burden to take care of daily problems, to be humble enough to sacrifice other possibilities. A mother cannot flee from her home to work as a member of a "traveling team." People need a certain stability of life they can find only at home.

We suffer from certain tendencies of being-into-everything while being-with-nobody, we fail to warm up to people in particular. Not everything modern is from Christ. A few of my thoughts - for what they are worth. 

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Parishes for MISSION is meant primarily for SVD confreres working in parish ministry. It is also sent to all SVD provincial and regional superiors. Others who are interested in this discussion are also welcome to subscribe. If you would like to receive the bulletin, or if you know others who would like to receive it, please send a message to the editor, Tom Ascheman, at

As an occasional bulletin, it will appear as material is ready. If you would like to contribute your ideas for publication you are most welcome to do so. 

At present the bulletin is produced in English and Spanish. If you would like to see another language version of this bulletin or if you could help with translation please send a message to the editor. 

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To subscribe and to send notices for publication please contact:

Tom Ascheman SVD
Generalate Mission Secretary