Pastoral Plan: Diocese moves closer to implementing Pastoral Plan

By Charlene O’Connell
Guest Columnist

In January 2014, members of a Steering Committee, Bishop Joe Vásquez and a Core Team engaged in a year-long process to develop a new Pastoral Plan to guide the Austin Diocese for the next three to five years. The new plan will have three distinct sections: an Overview, the Operational Plan and an Implementation Plan. The first two sections were completed in January of this year and are available on the diocesan website in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean (www.austindiocese.org). 
The Core Team then began the consultation process to develop an Implementation Plan by hosting regular meetings with the diocesan staff and parish gatherings for priests and parishioners. The purpose of these meetings was to collect thoughts and ideas directly from the people for whom the plan is written and who will ultimately share in its implementation. The hope is that through this process the final Pastoral Plan will indeed support all of us in the Diocese of Austin in our common journey to be more effective witnesses of our Catholic faith.
Priorities
The three strategic priorities of the Pastoral Plan are to provide spiritual formation that leads to encounter, to develop a culture of ministry that sustains transformation of individuals and communities to be missionary, and to strengthen Christian witness and outreach to transform individuals and communities. 
The parish gatherings were held in five areas of the diocese where more than 245 people from nearly 60 parishes participated in a reflective process around the plan’s three strategic priorities. They came from Hearne, Mason, Cyclone, Horseshoe Bay, San Marcos, Manor and many parishes in between hoping to learn more about the progress of the new diocesan Pastoral Plan and to offer ideas about how to implement it. Participants included members of pastoral councils, parish ministries, deacons and priests. 
Each session began with participants praying together in Spanish, Czech, Vietnamese and English and then they had the opportunity to assemble in English or Spanish groups. Participants selected one of three questions to reflect on and discuss in their groups based on the three strategic priorities. 
Reviewing the plan
The people then reviewed the core elements of the Pastoral Plan with emphasis on the three objectives listed for each priority. They selected one objective from each and brainstormed ideas about what could be done to accomplish that goal. For each parish gathering, this was a lively discussion, which produced excellent ideas for each goal. The table discussions also enabled the participants to meet one another, to appreciate that they share many common concerns and opportunities, and to have the chance to give input and to be heard. 
The evening concluded with members of each group sharing their ideas with everyone and seeing the common threads that began to emerge for the implementation plan. Some of their suggestions included have more retreat experiences, develop small faith groups, recognize the correlation of spiritually healthy pastors with vibrant parishes, the importance of good preaching, the need to celebrate our diverse cultures, share welcoming strategies, encourage ministry leaders and parishes to work together, provide more Spanish resources, focus on evangelization, realize that the family comes first, share resources with smaller parishes, and follow the example given by Pope Francis.
What is next?
The most important element of any plan is its effective implementation. The Core Team and members of the Steering Committee will meet in June, analyze the ideas collected from the parish gatherings as well as the staff sessions and develop an implementation plan. All progress will be shared through the diocesan regular communication networks: the diocesan website, the E-pistle, and the Diocese of Austin Facebook page and Twitter account. 
What can we do now?
At its core, the vision of the Pastoral Plan is focused on three ideas: how do we encounter Jesus Christ, how can we work together to build up the body of Christ, and how do we reach out to those in need. We can begin now to be a better presence of Christ within our relationships and acknowledge those moments when we encounter Christ with others. We can build on this encounter and work more effectively and collaboratively in ministry with others. Finally, we can answer the call of this encounter with Christ by serving our sisters and brothers in need and by witnessing our Catholic faith with joy.
Thank you to the priests and parishioners who participated in the parish gatherings, to the pastors who allowed us to use parish facilities and to the hosts who welcomed the people.

Charlene O’Connell leads the steering committee for the diocesan Pastoral Plan. For more information, visit www.austindiocese.org/pastoralplan.