By RENEE WEBB
In 2009, Bishop Walker Nickless released a pastoral letter on the future of the church in the Diocese of Sioux City titled Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal.)
The letter was recently reprinted with a new introduction by the bishop as well as an updated study guide.
“It was re-released in light of Ministry 2025 because so much of the pastoral planning is rooted in his pastoral goals and priorities,” said Fred Shellabarger, diocesan director of evangelization. “It was important to have those fresh, at the forefront of our minds.”
Many of the additions, he noted, were related to an emphasis on the fifth goal that stresses the importance of mission. Plus, the new introduction, Shellabarger added, is almost exclusively focused on it.
“In a lot of ways, that new introduction is the vision for our office, and in a certain sense, it’s the vision for phase two of Ministry 2025 – the what-do-we-do-now, what-is-next phase,” the director of evangelization said.
The introduction and fifth goal, Shellabarger said, take Catholics from the notion of maintenance to mission.
“We are called to be evangelizers, we are called to transform the world around us with the joy of the Gospel,” said Shellabarger, who noted those concepts are at the message presented in the updated information.
In a letter to the faithful contained in this printing, Bishop Nickless acknowledged that much has changed in the diocese since he first released the pastoral letter, but he stressed, yet that same vision, and those pastoral priorities remain more urgent and necessary, particularly in light of the many changes brought about by Ministry 2025.
Priorities outlined in the pastoral include: 1) renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament within and outside of Mass; 2) strengthen catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults; 3) protect, build up and foster holy families; 4) foster a culture where young people can respond to calls of ministerial priesthood and consecrated life; 5) acknowledge and embrace missionary character of the faith.
“All of these priorities are absolutely vital for the success of Ministry 2025, and in turn, the future of the church in Northwest Iowa,” Bishop Nickless stated in the letter. “However, one goal stands out particularly as key. It is absolutely critical for the future of the diocese. Moreover, it speaks of what must be at the very heart of all of our ministry efforts moving forward: that is, mission.”
For Ministry 2025 to be effective, the bishop said, “we must recover our primary identity as evangelizers, people who are not afraid to share the good news of Jesus Christ. It is of the utmost importance that this sense of mission motivate all of our efforts and planning.”
While the re-publication of the pastoral letter affirms the bishop’s goals, Shellabarger said it is a call for Catholics to become the agents of evangelization to which they are called.
People of the diocese, he noted, may not realize the significance of this pastoral letter. The diocesan director said it is being used as a teaching tool at the Agustine Institute and Franciscan University.
While a study guide was released for the pastoral letter a few years ago, it has been revised. It contains theological reflection questions and personal reflection questions.
“It’s good for helping people to internalize the message a little more, to reflect on the message a little more, to discuss it and take it to heart,” said Shellabarger, who noted it can help in determining ways to apply it. “It’s a great resource for small group study or personal study. It will help them get a better grasp of where we are, why we are here and where we need to go.”
For now, the reprinted pastoral letter has been handed out to catechetical leaders at various diocesan programs. It is also available online. Find it under Bishop Nickless’ tab at www.scdiocese.org.