This essay highlights the strengths and the weakness of the modern Catholic parish Church. This is based on the writer’s own experience as he has been assigned to the different parishes in the country, that is, from as far as Assumption Parish in Balbalan, Kalinga up north and Immaculate Conception Parish in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur down south.
Among the strengths of the parish is its erection of the basic ecclesial communities. Parishes which espoused BECs practiced delegation of work among its members, especially among those who are in the far-flung areas. This is very helpful, especially, if the parish is big and have many chapels. There are selected, sometimes volunteer members, who take good care of the faith formation and liturgical animation of its members. In our parish in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, for example, we have more than 30 chapels and most of these are very far from the parish and the faithful finds it difficult to attend Sunday services. Through the BEC, Sunday pastors became available to give Bible Services to keep the faith of the faithful dynamic and ever-lively.
Second, the stress of parish mission and vision also gives the parishioners and the parish priests a certain identity which they could always identify with. Because of the recent popularity of parish management, several parishes have made it a mandate to have their mission and vision be memorized by their parishes. We do it in our parish and I also observed that other parishes are doing it. A common term of endearment also helps in invigorating the faith of its members. A parish in the north called its parishioners ‘kaparokya” (literally “from the same parish”). In our parish in Cainta, we call each other “kapanalig” (meaning, “of the same faith”). I am convinced that simple things like this helps to boost the morale of each parishioner since it gives the feeling that one truly belongs.
Third, the diversity of ministries will always be a gift to the parish: lectors, commentators, Knights of the Altar, Mother Butlers, Apostleship of Prayer, Catholic Women’s League, music ministry, etc.…all these ministries contribute to the building up of lively and faith-filled communities. These ministries are indeed a blessing to the parish.
Fourth, connected to the third is the empowered lay force. When the lay people give their services to the parish, it has always been amazing! Sometimes they even are more zealous than the pastors. Parishes which provide constant formation program to its members send the strong signal that the lay are important workforce of the parish. Since parish work is a team work, it is indeed necessary that the lay are taught to be disposed to work and experience working with other people and groups, to have a common goal and develop human values of communal discipline, being able to work closely with a team and seeing the key points of building communities.
Fifth, the presence of catechists in the parish is a very big help in the evangelization of parishioners. They are always the extension of the parish priests. They give seminars, they inform Christian values, they teach doctrines, and some of these catechists do them for free. Good for those in the Archdiocese of Manila, they are receiving a “wholesome” wage but those in the provinces usually give their services selflessly and this one is a very inspiring. I, for one, got my vocation to become a priest through the inspiration of our parish catechists.
Certainly, we can see that the faith animation of any parish community depends largely on the people at the fore-front: parish priest, catechists and other lay force. A good formation program really helps in order to better provide each one with the skills to help in the propagation of faith experience in the parish.
First of all, many parishes, including the ministries inside the parishes, do not exercise financial transparency. This is always a great irony: we always criticize government institutions for not being transparent in financial matters, but in reality we are also in the same boat. This is sometimes also due to the lack of professional and efficient personnel in the parish.
Second, sometimes parish ministries have become confederation of autonomous entities instead of becoming coordination of communities. Most often, members of one parish ministry do not see their services in relation to the other ministries. Worse, some communities compete with each other: Who is closer to the parish priest? Who has the greatest number of members? Whose ministry has the biggest share of services in the parish? Without a doubt, this non-coordination and seeming competition among ministries in the parish truly miss the point of service for the kingdom.
Third, less involvement on social services. The Church in the Philippines claims to be a Church of the Poor but on the parish level, it actually falls short of social services that opts for the poor. The emphasis is more on the worship dimension of the faith, but less on the missionary dimension.
Fourth, there is the tension between the pastors and the active charismatic Catholic ministries in many parishes. I have observed that many pastors seemed to be indifferent with charismatic communities. On the other hand, some charismatic communities within the parish tend to also dominate the parish priest and assert their existence apart from the parish. This is not really a very healthy reality for both parties. A parish needs charismatic members, and on the other hand, charismatic groups also need the parish as its ground for their evangelizing services.
Fifth, the scarcity of priests. Some priests are blessed to have more than three priests. However, there are also parishes with only one priest in charge to minister to thousand souls in the parish community. This is especially felt during misa de gallo season in the Philippines. We have a good number of priests, but we still need more priests.
Weaknesses (in no particular order): lack of financial transparency, scandals in the parish, clericalism, parish mismanagement, tensions and factions between ministers and ministries, “old school” parishes, less emphasis on social services, weak priests, lack of catechetical formation especially adult catechism, programs which are only limited to active members of the parish, financial incapacity, lack of fraternal spirit among parishioners, lack of vocation promotion, incongruence in what the parish priest preaches and with what the parishioners experienced with him.