Bishop Hying

The Church will continue to grow to the extent that each of us deepens our own relationship with Christ

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on May 26, 2019


      Last week at the Priests’ Council meeting, I shared the following statistics regarding sacramental celebration and formation participation in our diocese from 2010-2018.  In those eight years, the following declines occurred:

      ž The Catholic population has declined by 8.7 percent

      ž The number of infant baptisms is down 27.0 percent

      ž The number of adult baptisms has fallen by 49.6 percent

      ž The number of adults received into full comm with the Church has declined by 49.5 percent

      ž The number of First Holy Comms is down 25.8 percent

      ž The number of confirmations has fallen by 9.1 percent

      ž The number of students enrolled in our Catholic grade schools has declined by 16.4 percent

      ž The number of young people participating in our diocesan youth programs is down 15.2 percent

      ž The number of students enrolled in our faith formation programs has fallen by 28.2 percent

      These numbers reflect the national trends; our diocese is not significantly different than any other, as we observe the decline of religious practice, especially among young families and youth. Nor are the statistics that different than other Christian denominations or religions. 

      This precipitous downturn, however, should both alarm and animate us as Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ. If a private business presented numbers like these, the owners would be thinking about closing their doors. The Catholic Church, of course, will not end, for we have the consoling promise of Jesus and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, but how many individual parishes, schools and institutions will close their doors because we simply do not have the resources to keep it all going?

      I have celebrated Masses at some of our parishes where, if you factored out everybody over the age of 65, there would be few people left.  Fewer people are getting married at all, fewer are having children and fewer see active participation in Catholic parish life as essential, meaningful and important. As the older generations fade from the scene, fewer young Catholics are stepping forward to take their place.

      I share this reality with you not to depress anyone, but to reiterate the importance of the synod process as an animating vehicle to spur growth, vitality and engagement among our parishes and people. Inert complacency, resistance to change, lack of zeal and spiritual superficiality will not get us where we need to go! 

      Throughout the synod experience, on the levels of parish, deanery and diocese, I heard and felt from our people a great love for Christ and the Church, a deep desire to change the status quo at their parishes and a prudent concern about the future. 

      I applaud every parish in our Diocese for acting in some fashion on the energy and vision of the synod; all of our parishes created a plan, based on an analysis of their local strengths, needs and deficits.  Last summer, I met with every pastor and parish planning team to thank them for their efforts, review the details of their plan and offer suggestions and comments. In these constructive dialogues, I found great encouragement and hope! So many people are embracing visionary action.

      As I leave you next month, I simply want to encourage you to keep moving forward on your synod implementation. Stay focused on the goals, keep communicating the vision to the parishioners, strive to surface new leaders, do not give into discouragement if results are lacking.

      As you accomplish some of the goals, create new ones. Make the goals transformative and substantive, so that your efforts will renew and impact the faith culture of your parish and the spiritual lives of your people. When all is said and done, the Church will grow to the extent that each of us deepens our own relationship with Christ and the Church so that we have the competence and confidence to witness our faith to others. 

      Imagine if each of us was able to facilitate even one person to either come back to the practice of the faith or to become Catholic. Even if all our efforts do not bear the immediate fruit we hope for, we cannot afford to remain complacent or despairing. The odds against the success of the early Church were overwhelming, yet observe how the evangelizing zeal of a small but mighty band of disciples transformed the world and the course of human history. 

      We have received the same Holy Spirit as them; we carry the same Gospel; we have encountered the same risen Christ. 

      I thank everyone who has helped in the synod process!  Know of my prayers, support and gratitude!  I promised when we began this important and challenging task that the synod plan would not end up on a shelf, collecting dust.  The challenge to carry the faith forward and turn the above statistics around is up to each one of you! 

      Move forward with the confidence of the Holy Spirit and the fire of the Gospel!


        + Donald J. Hying

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