Fidelity bears fruit – A pastoral message on the occasion of the parish feast
My dear parishioners,
The feast of St Stephen our patron falls on December 26th each year. Somehow the Christmas season, with its festivities, overshadows this day. The day after Christmas, with its spiritual and social demands exhausts us and the thought of a parish feast the very next day has been the reason why pastorally this celebration has often been postponed to a Sunday in January
Just when we thought we had the covid virus tucked under our belt, a new variant, Omicron, took us by surprise. Mercifully, this wave was not as bad as the last one; yet we are mindful that lives were lost and we can’t let our guard down.
On the feast day I want to greet each of you, those who will attend mass over the week end and those who will join us on line. Personally, for me, the last seven months here at St Stephen’s has been a roller coaster and while we would all like to wish that things are fine, they are not. The reality of the parish, administratively, pastorally and spiritually is far from where it should be. Today, I wish to speak of a few key areas of concern that we as a parish could work together.
One of the saddest realities that dawned on me was that post the second wave of covid, the attendance at weekend mass, on the best Sunday, was just fifty percent of the parish. This means that more than five hundred parishioners continue to be absent. I acknowledge that of these many will be senior citizens and children but the reality is that there are many able-bodied people, who I am sure continue with daily work normally, who skip Sunday Mass.
I have often bemoaned that parishioners seek active and lively parishes. When the laity speak of their parish as active, they usually mean that there is a lot of ‘activity ‘going on and that ‘activity’ is often translated as entertainment. While a healthy social interaction is necessary for any parish, my duty as parish priest in certainly not to entertain people but to lead you to God and I would be failing in my duty if I did not do that first. It is for this reason that I appeal to you to earnestly return to Sunday worship. Let us stop making excuses and we know that excuses abound!
I have been visiting the parish and interacting with the parishioners. This week I visited about 19 homes in the Tardeo area. While many Catholics in the city of Mumbai have an impression that Cumballa Hill is an affluent parish, that reality is far from the truth. I have seen much poverty in the parish and the 75 odd families that seek monthly rations accounts for about 1/5th of the parish and also a sad reality. This means that we have to work towards ensuring that no one goes hungry or without basic medical and educational assistance. To this effect, I have ensured that the St Stephens Table project continues and I am grateful to the many online donors who have kept this project alive. I want to appeal to the parish, to every earning member, to take your contribution towards the community welfare fund seriously. Each earning member must contribute a minimum of one percent every month to this fund. Sadly, several parishioners do not contribute to this fund and even more several give a kind of lump sum on behalf of the family. I repeat, every earning member is obliged to take a separate envelope and make your contribution
In the last seven months we have a new parish office, a new conference room, four toilets on the third floor are now renovated, three class room for the nursery are being renovated, the wiring dating back to the 1970’s on the third, fourth and fifth floors have been replaced, the fathers’ rooms have been renovated and by next month we will begin work on the ground floor public toilets. I am grateful for the assistance I have received in this matter from both parishioners and friends who have generously contributed to these projects.
If a parish has to grow, then everyone must also contribute their time. A parish is like a series of concentric circles. Each one of us must find our self as part of some circle. At the core will be a few dedicated workers and I want to thank these 40 odd people who are involved in practically every aspect of pastoral life. While I do acknowledge that some people due to the fact that they may be care givers or have challenges in the job environment find themselves in the outer circle of service, that circle sadly has the greatest number of parishioners. We need to thin out this outer circle and those who are on the periphery of service need to get more involved in the parish. It is unfair to claim this parish to be yours when your personal contribution is non- existent. While everyone has rights, every one also has obligations.
I am often called a no-nonsense tough parish priest and in many senses of the word I am. While love must be at the core of every decision that does not mean that at times tough decisions should not be taken. I sense that too many people seek exemptions when it comes to the faith and administrative matters in the parish. Permit me to be firm and tough; tough enough to call out injustice, tough enough to make course corrections, tough enough to demand more from our laity and tough enough to admit that at times, we the clergy have also failed you. I want our parishioners not to seek the broad and easy way but to walk the narrow path of salvation. Fidelity bears fruit and so I invite you to a new pastoral year in St Stephens; a year in which every parishioner becomes part of the movement #GodFirst.