Diocese of Oakland bears stamp of innovation
During my three years of ministry here in the Diocese of Oakland, I have greatly appreciated the opportunities I've had for informal gatherings with the priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders. Among the many gratifying aspects of these encounters is that they have afforded me the opportunity to hear a lot of the lore of the diocese (and there is a lot!) and so helped me to get a good sense of the key players — and, to be sure, characters — who have made up the 50 years of colorful history our diocese is celebrating this year.
We have been blessed with leaders of great foresight who have helped to put a stamp of pastoral innovation on our diocese. Bishop Floyd Begin's role in the founding of the Graduate Theological Union comes immediately to mind. We can also think of Bishop John Cummins' reading of the signs of the times and connecting so effectively with the Church in Asia and Asian Catholics who make up such a vibrant part of our diocese. And, of course, his vision for the establishment of the cathedral and his work in getting the project off the ground, along with Archbishop Vigneron's seeing it through to completion, has garnered worldwide acclaim for the city of Oakland.
While these high profile initiatives are the first things that might come to mind, there are others which, thanks to the insight and practical wisdom of so many clergy, religious and lay leaders in the diocese, are no less significant. I think, for example, of the procedure the diocese has for assigning priests to parishes, in which the parishioners themselves are consulted on the needs of their parish and the qualities they think their next pastor should have, which facilitates a true process for discerning the "right fit." Also worthy of mention is the system of accountability for ongoing formation of priests which the priests themselves designed and agreed to, or then again the ways in which the diocese celebrates and pastorally coordinates our great cultural richness.
Another example I think merits special mention is the Ten Essentials of Parish Life. This practical guide to a full vision of parish life is an invaluable resource to parishes for their own self-assessment, and a way of holding themselves accountable for their stewardship of the material and spiritual goods with which they have been entrusted for the sake of the mission of the Church. For all of my 30 years of priesthood I have heard much lamenting about the lack of accountability in the Church; this is one tool which builds in that accountability, but in a way that is encouraging rather than threatening.
At this significant milestone of 50 years of history as a diocese, we have much for which to give thanks, and many people to whom to give thanks — faith-filled clergy, religious and laity who, with the grace of God, have shaped us into who we are as a local Church. As we look forward and begin planning for the next 50 years, we have much to build on. To return to the Ten Essentials as an example, I have asked the Diocesan Pastoral Council to form a committee to deliberate and offer suggestions on updating them in light of the current cultural and pastoral circumstances we face, so they can better help parishes respond to the realities that confront people of faith at this moment of history in our diocese. The proposed revision will then be submitted to the Presbyteral Council for its observations and input.
There are certainly many other initiatives as well that we are working on to help sustain the effectiveness of our ministries for years and even decades to come. A more coordinated, comprehensive and deliberate organization of our various development efforts is one of the more significant ones. Another is devising a strategic plan for our Catholic schools to ensure that a 21st Century quality Catholic education is available and accessible to our families for the next generation and beyond. This will require some creative, "out of the box" thinking, but this is precisely the sort of creativity that the Diocese of Oakland has been so successful at for this first half-century of our history.
As we forge ahead to meet the challenges before us, let us ask God for the wisdom to be wise stewards of the blessings He has entrusted to us, so that we, too, in our turn, may leave a cultural and spiritual patrimony upon which future generations will be able to build in their turn. Fifty years from now, when those who come after us are celebrating the centennial of the diocese, may they be as grateful to us as we are to our predecessors in ministry and Church life here in the Diocese of Oakland.