Dear Friends in Christ,
Two years ago, you opened your arms and your hearts, and allowed me to serve you as Bishop of The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. I will always be grateful to you—the priests and people of this young diocese. You have made me feel at home. More importantly, you have shared with me your hopes and dreams, your challenges and frustrations and your desire that we all work together to build Christ’s Church here and now.
Now that I have spent two years listening carefully to your thoughts and concerns, I feel compelled in the Spirit to respond in a positive and genuinely pastoral way. I am convinced that we need to come together to build a future full of hope. My dream is to build a culture of forward-thinking, strategic planning that can take the deepest desires of the good people along the Bayou and forge a vision and plan that can help make our dreams come true. I can’t do this alone—or even with a small group of clergy and lay leaders. That’s why I am addressing this pastoral letter to ALL the members of this local church, the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. After all this is YOUR Church and YOUR legacy as the people of God, here on the Bayou.
You recognize this vibrant expression of confidence and hope. Let’s move forward. Let’s work together as one family of faith. Let’s bring Christ to others by being Christ for others, for everyone, both those who are close to us (our families, friends and fellow parishioners) and those who are different from us (strangers, people on the margins of society, even enemies).
Pope Francis has declared this year an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church’s “mission to be a witness of mercy.” This will be a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective. It is a time for spiritual renewal and rediscovery. Allons! What better time to look to the future of our diocese and to build up Christ’s Church together!
Renewal and rediscovery—to be a “witness of mercy”—requires thoughtful and deliberate planning. It requires that we listen to all who seek the Mercy of our Lord—the poor, marginalized, sick, or suffering – and then be prepared to offer compassion and comfort in meaningful and effective ways. “May the Church become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: ‘Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old’” (Psalm 25:6).
For the Church to become the “voice of every man and woman” in our diocese, I want to foster a culture of thoughtful discernment, collaboration, teamwork, and accountability. Why do we do what we do? How can we best function as a team? How are we changing lives? What is our story? In short, we need a process where clergy and laity come together to affirm the mission of our Church and pursue a renewed course of action true to our time and place. That is the work of strategic planning. Strategic planning is a “coming together” of our church family for prayerful consideration of the challenges and opportunities before us, and for thoughtful deliberation of our plan of action.
The work of planning will not be easy. It will require us to move beyond our comfort zones, as Pope Francis tells us. It will require us to “Go out to the peripheries!” and reach out to those who seek the face of God in this Year of Mercy and always. We can be the face of God for others because we (all of us!) are made in God’s image and likeness. We can be the face of mercy for others (everyone, regardless of their sins) because we have ourselves been forgiven and have accepted the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ and his Church.
Now is the time to work together to build Christ’s Church by reaching out to others and being Christ for them. We are a relatively young diocese. Just 38 years ago, in 1977, the Church recognized the vibrancy of the Catholic faith in our region and responded by establishing the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. At that time, 67% of the population of our region was Catholic. More importantly, nearly 50% of Catholics in our diocese practiced their faith by attending Mass regularly. Today, the population of our region has grown by 20%, but the number of Catholics who attend Mass and receive the sacraments has declined—some say by 50%.
We know that the Church is not a numbers game. The work of the Holy Spirit is not confined to percentages, and the vibrancy of faith expressed in the lives of Catholics in Cajun country cannot be limited to statistics and declining numbers. Still, something is very wrong here. If we are truly called to proclaim the Gospel to everyone—Catholics and everyone else—then we cannot be satisfied with our current situation. We are challenged by Pope Francis, who merely echoes the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels, to be missionary disciples.
As we prepare to celebrate our 40th anniversary as a local church, a diocese, we cannot be content to stay home and say we believe. We must go out together and carry the Gospel message of hope and joy to the ends of the earth!
“Everything great in history has been built by people who believe the future can be better than the past. One of the tragedies of modern-day Catholicism is the disbelief that the future will be better than the past. That is disappointing because we have a mission given to us by God!”
— Matthew Kelly
Do we really believe that the future will be better than the past? In today’s social and political climate, this is heresy. Gloom and doom are the images we are confronted with on a daily basis. This is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not the Good News that we are called to proclaim to the ends of the earth—with our voices and our very lives!
We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work along the Bayou, and the Spirit’s power can never be limited by the negative voices of the Evil One or the cultural influences that promote discouragement and despair. We believe in a future full of hope. We are called to spread the Gospel message of joy. This is why we plan—to overcome obstacles, with the power of God’s grace—and to share the Good News that God’s mercy has already overcome the power of sin and death in our world!
Planning is tough work. To be inclusive of the aspirations of our priests and the people in our pews will require full-time focus, dedication, and management. Together we can unite the local and larger Church of the diocese in ways that have transformational impact—changing the hearts of those who participate and the lives of those served; but only if we dedicate and commit ourselves to the process. With God’s help this strategic planning effort can be for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, the beginning of an exciting work of pastoral revitalization, one that will enable us to face the challenges of the present with enthusiasm, and to prepare for the challenges of the future with confidence.
Let’s go! Let’s work together to build up the Church of Jesus Christ here on the Bayou! Our goal is to renew the minds and hearts of every individual, family and parish community in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. To be successful, we must be people of prayer who listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who often speaks through the voices of ordinary people—our families, neighbors, the poor and the suffering, all God’s children!
We must also be thoughtful, respectful of the ideas, concerns and opinions of others, including those we question or disagree with. Above all, we must be women and men of mercy who can forgive ourselves and one another as the Father has forgiven us by the redemptive love of his son, Jesus.
During his closing homily in Philadelphia, this past September, Pope Francis said: “We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity... The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechesis and education. Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes...”
We are 39 different parishes, 3,440 Square Miles including Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish, the Morgan City area and Grand Isle, but we are one diocese, one community of faith. How about we work together?
Join me to prepare now and make our 40th Anniversary in 2017, a time of renewal. Let’s use this wonderful opportunity to come together as brothers and sisters, and dream about the possibilities of a happy and vibrant Church! And then let’s do the hard work to realize those dreams — together!
Most Rev. Shelton J. Fabre
Post Office Box 505
Schriever, LA 70395
The Year of Mercy marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The Council Fathers at that time strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. Pope Francis urges us to continue this quest for accessibility.
We have chosen to pursue a process of strategic planning that can help us imagine a future full of hope. This is one of the many ways that we are called to talk about God to the men and women of our time. It is also a wonderful opportunity for us to come together as one family of faith dedicated to building up Christ’s Church here in south Louisiana.
My hope is that we will respond with open hearts to the Holy Spirit’s invitation to catch fire and to spread the joy of the Gospel! May we truly be women and men of mercy, images of the face of God who bring healing and hope to all.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Most Rev. Shelton J. Fabre
Bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux