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By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Among many examples of the Church alive in the Diocese of Jackson this past week two in particular were outstanding in my pastoral visits. The annual commemoration of Catholic Schools Week was marked with abundant joy and creativity in each of the ten out of 16 school communities where I celebrated the Eucharist. (I am scheduled to visit and celebrate the Eucharist in the remaining six schools in the weeks ahead.)
School pride was evident around every corner and down every hallway. I am grateful to many who are dedicated to the wellbeing of our Catholic schools that continue to be a vital part of our diocesan mission to proclaim Jesus Christ so that all may experience him, crucified and risen.
The second event of this past week was the Convocation for parish leadership, priests, lay ecclesial ministers (LEMs), deacons and several diocesan staff who immersed themselves in our renewed mission, vision, and pastoral priorities. The enthusiasm and collaborative work were evident from Monday evening through Wednesday afternoon, the first major step of the implementation of our pastoral plan which began last year in the listening sessions around the diocese.
It has been an inspiring process that recalls for me the captivating words of the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, which were read at the end of the workshop. “Then the Lord answered me and said, write down the vision. Make it plain upon tablets, so that the one who reads it may run (with it). For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will sure come, it will not be late.” (Hab. 2,2-3)
The next step nearly one year after the listening sessions will be to host implementation sessions around the diocese for parish leadership and staff who can in turn work with their pastors, parochial vicars, LEMs, and deacons in very specific ways in each pastoral setting. Our renewed diocesan statement of vision is well designed in its simplicity, and far reaching in its relevance. Serve Others — Inspire Disciples — Embrace Diversity
These three phrases emerged from the deliberations of the diocesan envisioning team throughout seven sessions during the summer and fall which were characterized by considerable reflection and dogged dialogue, all of it under the nudges of the Holy Spirit. The input from our 17 listening sessions and the clamor of our current culture cry out for our statement of vision. There are pastoral priorities with SMART goals and tasks that flow from the vision and these will be presented and applied beginning next month. Each parish, school, and pastoral ministry will engage in the work of specifically applying the vision to the reality of each ministry.
I write this column on the eve of the third anniversary of my ordination and installation as the 11th bishop of Jackson, and without a doubt, it has been an action-packed adventure in faith since the outset. I recall that immediately following the ordination ceremony a reporter asked me if I could elaborate on the vision I had for the diocese. I smiled because I was still unable to find half of the stuff I packed for the move to Jackson from the Scranton diocese, let alone articulate a vision for a diocese that was just two hours old for me.
Seriously, I knew that it would take time to settle in and have the opportunity, in the words of Pope Francis, “to encounter, dialogue with, and accompany” the faithful of the Jackson diocese in order for the Holy Spirit to take us to the vista that now lays before us. This is clearly one of the meanings in the prophetic words of Habakkuk cited above with regard to waiting for the vision to arrive at its appointed time.
Remember that the mission of the Catholic Church and every diocese remains the same until Christ comes again, i.e. to make disciples of all nations. Our sacred mission as a diocese is to proclaim Jesus Christ by living the gospel so that all may experience the crucified and risen Lord. Out of this mission comes our vision which will guide us for the next three to five years.
One hoped-for blessing will be to bring about a deeper unity throughout our 65 counties which can be complex due to our geography as the largest Catholic diocese east of the Mississippi river. One of the mantras that I have periodically heard in my travels and pastoral visits is that “we do not feel like we are a part of the diocese because Jackson is so far away.” This is challenging to overcome, but I believe that our renewed vision with its pastoral priorities will go a long way to bring about a unity that will empower us.
An exhortation from St Paul to the Corinthians who were struggling with unity for many reasons, helps us to understand the wisdom of who we can be. “I urge you brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (1Cor 1,10) A vision can inspire in us the same mind and purpose that no distance can weaken.
As our 180th year as a diocese unfolds before us, may the Lord Jesus, ever ancient and ever new, who began this good work in us, continue to renew and inspire us to serve him faithfully and creatively in our hard pressed, and yet hope filled times.
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