My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We have created our vision together. It gives us a common vista of hope for the Third Millennium. I am calling and challenging every Catholic in the Diocese to live our vision so that we transform three areas of life: the family, the neighborhood, and the larger society. This demands that we expand our understanding and experience of Church. Being Church is not only what happens in our parish communities, it is more. It means impacting our families, our neighborhoods and our society with the Good News of Jesus. This means that for every activity, project, and plan we make we must ask the questions: "Does this bring hope to people?" "Does this impact family, neighborhood, and society with the Gospel?" We are challenged and called to be church in the every day places of our lives.
Family is the basic unit of the Church where faith is transmitted. Realizing that family relationships shape the direction of one's life more than all other experiences, and that one's experience of God is directly related to one's experience of family, our parishes and faith communities must be committed to nurturing and supporting family life. Because the family provides a foundational experience of God, parishes must make meaningful connections between the reality of family life and the message of the Gospel. We continually seek to understand the diversity of family life, its development and stages, and the contemporary experience of the family.
We; as parishes and faith communities, will be family-focused. We accept the challenge to start with the current experience of families and to be flexible and creative in our ministry to and with families. Included in this challenge is a call to provide additional attention and pastoral care to the divorced, widowed, elderly, ill, homebound and those with special needs. We affirm our call to be parishes and faith communities committed to the importance of relationships with self, others, and God.
We are the body of Christ. Christ is revealed in the way we impact our neighbors, in the way we are involved in the life we share with others. We cannot isolate ourselves from the problems and issues affecting our neighbors.
In the next millennium, we will be a Church where families are actively involved in schools, social services, as well as health care, housing, and employment issues. As parishes, we are called to break the chains of parochialism by looking to the common good. We will deepen our connections and relationships with neighboring parishes and other faith communities that surround us.
We will be leaders in initiating and being actively involved in projects that build healthy neighborhoods, seeking to end violence through advocating, joining, and supporting civic events that promote justice.
Recognizing the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and the anxieties of our world, especially among the poor, we accept the call to be light for the world. We will bring Gospel values to society, sharing our hope with the un-churched and those who search for faith.
Our parishes will be committed to responding to people in need, helping those who are powerless, alienated, and without hope. We will be involved where we must, be it welfare reform, environmental issues, and issues that threaten life. We will reach out in support to those in crisis: both victims and perpetrators of violence, as well as persons suffering because of racism, and injustice of all kinds.
Sensitive to the global community, we embrace the gospel mandate to actively promote justice and peace through education and action. We will strengthen our commitment to issues of life, particularly for the unborn and for those who are dying, and work to protect persons at all stages of the life journey. Through our active involvement with the issues of society, our actions will show a commitment to justice. We will work for systemic change, creating just policies and structures that promote the dignity and welfare of all people, especially the poor.
We are given a new opportunity to embrace the Creative Spirit of Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the promise that we can be a new people, empowered with vision made hope.
I challenge you, my brothers and sisters, to choose life: to build bridges between cultures, and between the rich and the poor, to walk with persons who may have different views of the Church, to forge links between young and old, to reconcile past and present hurts, thus binding yourselves to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today marks a new beginning. It is a time of personal and communal conversion. It is an opportunity to search our hearts and our lives, risking to see what we have not yet seen in ourselves and others. It is a time to join with others, accomplishing what we have not yet done together.
All of us will be challenged to make difficult choices. Our mission is to impact the family, neighborhood, and society with hope. I ask every person, and old, every parish, every ethnic community, every base community, every ministry, every diocesan office, every consultative group and committee, to accept the responsibility and the challenge of implementing this vision of hope. The Lord entrusts us with the Good News...hope for the world. Our commitment is to bring it into the Third Millennium. "For I know well the plans I have in mind or you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. " (Jer 29:11).
Yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Gerald Barnes