Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE — Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a new evangelization will guide the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the next four years under a strategic plan adopted during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.
Operating under the theme “Journey with Christ: Faith/Worship/Witness,” the plan offers a “road map” for the conference to shape programs and activities to strengthen the faith of Catholics and position them to be active witnesses to their faith in all aspects of life.
Covering the period from 2013 through 2016, the plan was overwhelmingly approved with 233 votes. Four bishops abstained.
The plan reaffirms the mission and structure of the USCCB, focuses on priority issues of the bishops and reiterates the collaborative work necessary across the conference to build the community of faith, explained Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans.
The strategic plan includes a series of actions, or what Bishop Murry called a road map, that suggests ways in which conference projects can be aligned with a possible approach that dioceses or parishes may want to adapt.
During the plan’s first year, the focus will be on faith and activities closely tied to the Year of Faith, which began in October and runs through November 2013. Programs will be aimed at helping Catholics deepen their relationship with Jesus and increase their knowledge of church teaching.
A special emphasis will be placed on the sacraments, particularly by strengthening the understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation as the foundation of the new evangelization so that it leads Catholics to greater participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, Bishop Murry told the assembly.
In 2014 and 2015, the plan supports initiatives that strengthen parish life and worship, creating greater awareness of the need to develop communities of faith that are evangelizing and increasing the understanding of the Mass and boosting Mass attendance.
The final year of the plan calls for Catholics to be witnesses to the wider world. Specific aims identify the need to promote church teaching on the life and dignity of the human person; increasing the encouragement of youths and young adults to consider a religious vocation; and continuing to foster and support married couples and families as Christian witnesses.
Collaboration among offices and with USCCB committees will be vital in implementing the plan as called for under the 2008 reorganization of the conference, Bishop Murry told the assembly. He said has seen much greater collaboration among conference staff in recent years and expects the trend to continue.
Further, as the strategic plan is implemented, Bishop Murry explained, efforts will be made to ensure that USCCB staff members become “inter-culturally competent” in reaching out to diverse communities that are increasingly making up the U.S. Catholic Church.
Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., asked about the plan’s focus on increasing Mass attendance at a time when fewer than a third of Catholics attend Sunday liturgies weekly.
“At this point, we have set that as a goal of the strategic plan,” Bishop Murry responded. “We are trying to look around the country to determine the best practices available to increase that sense of Mass attendance. As we get those best practices … we will pass those on to the bishops to use in the dioceses.”