Pastoral Planning: The diocese seeks input for new pastoral plan

By Charlene O’Connell
Guest Columnist

The Diocese of Austin has begun the process of developing a new Pastoral Plan that will serve as a road map for the future and will build upon our successes of the past. As the committee of diocesan staff and volunteers has started this process, we have prayed the “Prayer for Developing a Pastoral Plan.” Therefore, I offer more information about the Pastoral Plan process with the help of this beautiful prayer.
Good and gracious God, all that we have comes from you and we give you praise!
We are indeed grateful to God for having recently completed “Living Our Legacy: Christ-Centered Communities” in 2013. Many of the goals and objectives of that plan were realized and integrated into the work of the diocesan offices. With the completion of that plan, we now, as a church, take the time to reflect and evaluate where have we been and where are we headed. Therefore, we take the time to also give thanks and praise to God!
We have entered a new time in the Diocese of Austin and we seek your guidance and wisdom as we discern your will for the future.
The pastoral planning process is a time to join together in prayer and support as we embark on this journey to create a new vision for the Diocese of Austin. We know the demographic makeup of our diocese is rapidly changing. More people are moving into the Central Texas area and we are challenged to meet the needs of the people. The changing demographics of Central Texas will have tremendous effects on the future of our diocese and the Catholic Church. This new pastoral plan will allow us to prayerfully reflect on our future and how the diocese and its parishes and schools can make the greatest impact in people’s lives and in the wider community.
Pour forth your Holy Spirit into the hearts of your people and your ministers.
In Central Texas, we are part of the global, universal Catholic Church. Pope Francis has captivated the imagination of the world in exciting and inspiring ways. Now is the time to help Catholics undertake the challenges Pope Francis is putting before us: to create a culture of encounter; to go out to the perimeters; to meet the needs of the marginalized; to focus on the joy of the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ; and to be a church of mercy and compassion.
May the joy of the Gospel transform our minds to see fresh possibilities and be prophetic visionaries.
Pope Francis invites us to join with him in going out in search of others to bring them the light and the joy of our faith in Christ. Following his example, we have an opportunity to be Catholics filled with great enthusiasm for our faith. The Gospel is filled with joy, may our hearts be filled with that joy so much so, that we freely share the love of Christ with others. 
Give us the insights we need to strengthen our church. May we always be a sign of faith, hope and charity, a refuge where all are welcomed in Jesus’ name.
We are called to be Catholics who invite all people, no matter their social or cultural background, to hear the Lord’s message of joy and compassion. And we welcome them to join us in the fullness of the Catholic faith. We must continue to foster and live Gospel values in our communities, promoting the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family and the common good of our society so that we may always be transformed by Jesus Christ. Where are we now? What does the future hold? How do we become a church of joy, compassion, mercy –– a church of vibrant faith, nurturing worship and strong witness? These questions are at the heart of our reflection for the development of a new Pastoral Plan.
May we be good stewards of your many gifts, serving the marginalized and living as true disciples. May the fruits of our pastoral plan sustain the poor, give hope to the sick, comfort the suffering, provide strength to the family, inspire us to action, welcome our distant brothers and sisters and in doing so, bring greater glory to you.
To be successful we need the participation, insights and wisdom from the people throughout our diocese. You are key to the development of the plan and you play a critical role in the process. During January and February, listening sessions were held in which attendees helped us identify key issues that need our attention in our diocese. Many of the groups cited concerns about the changing structure of the family and the need for Catholic adults to know more about their faith in order to share it with others. Participants named three wishes for their parish communities to help people nurture and deepen their Catholic faith. Many groups highlighted their concerns for young people and young adults and how they can be more included in parish life.
Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, and the protection of St. Joseph may we discern and implement what is best for our diocesan church and all the faithful people of Central Texas.
A Steering Committee for the Pastoral Plan has been formed of people from around the diocese, and over the next several months they will begin to review all the data that has been collected. The next phase for developing the Pastoral Plan is for as many Catholics as possible to complete a survey available on the diocesan website at www.austindicoese.org. This survey affords you the greatest opportunity to make your voice heard. One aspect of the survey process that is very important is to hear from Catholics who are no longer part of our faith communities. If you know of someone who is not a part of a parish, please invite them to complete the survey so their experience and wisdom may be included in the discernment process. Continue to check the Catholic Spirit, the diocesan web site and Facebook page for updates and information about the new Pastoral Plan for the diocese.
Calm our fears, unite us as church, so that we may be of one mind and one spirit, working with joy for the growth of your Kingdom. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Bishop Joe Vásquez invites the faithful to take part in this journey to deepen and nourish our faith, our relationship with Christ, our worship and our witness. Please pray for the success of the Pastoral Plan and all those involved in preparing for the future of the Diocese of Austin. 

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