Signs of vitality abound in archdiocese

    Can you update us on the process for responding to the Vatican survey on pastoral care of the family? Did you get a good response from people in the archdiocese?
    I’m very grateful to the number of people who responded to the survey, which will be used to help the Vatican prepare for the synod on the family in October. We didn’t get an overwhelming response, but it was very positive and substantive. Some people expressed disappointment in the complexity and wording of some of the survey questions. I chose to distribute the survey in its original form because I felt people had a right to read the questions as they were presented by the synod office. For the integrity of the process, I didn’t want to adjust or tamper with those questions. I told anyone who had trouble answering the questions simply to write to me with their thoughts, concerns and suggestions about how the church can offer better pastoral care to the family.
    What kind of responses did you receive?
    The responses were very substantive. They focused on the challenges and complexities that are part of family life today. Some people who are divorced and remarried feel alienated from the church because they are not able to share fully in the sacramental life of the church. Some also said that church teaching on marriage and family life is not well-enough known, and that we as clergy and teachers should be doing a better job. People talked about evaluating and improving marriage preparation. They also talked about the challenges that arise these days because of societal morality. I can’t summarize everything people said, but I remain very grateful for their responses.
    What did you do with the responses?
    I used the responses I received as well as my own reflections to answer every survey question. I also mentioned in my report about what the Archdiocese of New Orleans is doing in terms of the Year of Family and Faith and suggested that it would be a good followup to the synod. Each bishop in the U.S. was asked to send in a response to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by the end of December. The USCCB will forward all of those bishops’ responses to the Vatican.
    Can you draw any conclusions from the survey process?
    One conclusion I made from evaluating the responses is that the church is alive and well in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Wherever people feel we are not adequately fulfilling the mission of Christ and the teachings of the church, they have offered suggestions and positive criticism. The involvement of people is a clear sign to me that the church is alive and well.
    Were you pleased with the attendance at the Hofinger Conference for religious educators last week?
    I was. I understand there were more than 1,250 people attending from 19 dioceses in the South, especially Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The Hofinger Conference is another indication of our vitality. It had not met for several years but has now been reinitiated, and it’s a great blessing and opportunity for formation for our catechists, religious education directors, youth ministers, school teachers, liturgical ministers, clergy and religious. The focus of the conference on the generations of saints who have gone before us and opened wide the doors of faith gave us a chance as teachers in ministry to look at what we’re doing and ask how we could do it better. It’s invigorating for me to see this many people in ministry gathered together taking very seriously their ministry and their desire for continuing education. I would encourage those who did not participate this year to really think about coming next year. It’s a golden opportunity for continuing education and formation so that we can teach as the Lord calls us to.
    Has the archdiocese has raised a significant amount of money for relief efforts following the typhoon in the Philippines.
    Yes. Once again, I think it’s an indication that the church is alive and well. We have received an extraordinary response, which to me is a sign that our families are united to the families of the Philippines in their great need. To me, that means what is being done in religious education and catechesis is having an effect because people are seeing a need for service. To date, we have collected  $527,655.82, and gifts are still coming in! I am humbled that we have people of faith who participate in the liturgical life of the church but also put their faith into action and become witnesses of the Gospel.
    Are there any other signs of vitality?
    Every pastor I have talked to told me that on Christmas Eve and Christmas, all the Masses were filled. Our churches were bursting at the seams, and some people were even standing outside of the church. We know that some of those people come to Mass primarily for the big feasts like Christmas and Easter, but I would like to put a positive spin on it – we’re happy they were there for Christmas! What is it that we can do as we move into both the Ordinary Time of the church in our ordinary lives to go out to those people, one by one, and invite them to come to be with us at church every Sunday? It’s not ours to judge why they’re not coming to church, but as we take our faith seriously, it really is an opportunity to thank God that they were there for Christmas. If each of us invited one person back, we could make a significant witness in the church and call people to live their faith in a more dramatic way.
    Is Pope Francis having an effect on people returning to the church?
    I’ve heard people constantly saying that they like the pope. Someone I know who is not terribly fond of religion, much less the Catholic Church, said to me recently, “I like our new pope.” I think Pope Francis has appealed to everyone through his ordinary way with people. He has not said anything new theologically and he remains faithful to the teachings of the church, but his way of being himself and talking in an ordinary way and acknowledging the struggles, challenges and joys of people have put a different face on the church. I have completed reading his exhortation from the synod on evangelization, and it is profound. He calls us to be joyful people in living the Gospel. He calls us not to be sourpusses. He calls us not to be judgmental. He calls us to live our faith and to invite others to do so and to live our faith with joy. In those suffering times, he asks us to find consolation not only from God but from other people in the community.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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