Last October, my second cycle of parish visitations began with Immaculate Conception Parish in Sulphur and ended this March with Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Jennings. In between, I had the good fortune to visit also Our Lady of Seven Dolors Parish in Welsh and St. Paul Parish in Elton. As I mentioned in my first report, such visitations are not only required of the Bishop but also gives the Bishop the opportunity to see firsthand what is happening in the parishes of the diocese.
With the establishment of a Diocesan Pastoral Council in the fall of this year, we will have an opportunity “to bring to the table” the observations made of pastoral life in our parishes during the visitations and also hear from representatives of the parishes about pastoral needs and initiatives that can help promote the New Evangelization, that is the furthering of the Gospel message as preached and lived by the Church. This, I think, cannot be done effectively unless we first know what many good things are going on in our parishes and where more emphasis could be placed on effective ministry and outreach.
After scheduling, parish visitations really commence with a parish visitation form being sent to the pastor. He and his staff provide me with information on the pastoral administration and ministry of the parish. I study these forms and come to the visitation with questions, observations, compliments and perhaps suggestions. I am pleased to announce that in all my visits this cycle I found vibrant parishes in which zeal for the sacraments, spirituality, education, and charitable works were all obvious.
One concern that arose frequently—and this is something I hear at other times when I visit parishes for Confirmations—was our youth. Of course, parents are concerned about their children, but the concerns I heard came from religious education leaders in the parishes. They are worried about what they see as indifference on the part of the children, how new technologies interfere with their concentration, how sporting events and extracurricular activities prevent the children’s participation in religion classes, Church youth activities, and even Mass.
On a very positive note, I heard often how the youth of our parishes were attracted to Eucharistic devotion, particularly Eucharistic adoration. Religious education and youth leaders told me consistently that on youth retreats and days of recollection, the youth considered Eucharistic adoration to be the highpoint of the weekend or day’s activities. This is encouraging. The silence appeals to them, a silence where they can encounter our Lord Jesus personally in His Eucharistic Presence.
Also, religious education leaders mentioned how rewarding it was to begin each religion class with a reading of the Gospel from the coming Sunday. This helped to center the conversation and discussion on the Word of God and to prepare the young people to hear that Word of God proclaimed to them at Sunday Mass.
I wish to thank publicly the pastors of the parishes visited—Father Aubrey Guilbeau, Father Herbert May, Father Marshall Boulet and Father Charles McMillin. It was such a pleasure to be with them and their parishioners for the celebration of all their weekend Masses, to meet with their parish leadership, and to greet and visit with the parishioners following Masses. I look forward to the future scheduling of a third cycle of visitations to begin in the fall of 2011. God bless you all!