The NPPN Executive serves the National Pastoral Planners Network whose purpose is to promote and strengthen a culture of planning for mission and evangelisation within the Catholic Church in Oceania. We engage pastoral research and best practices in church growth to offer experience, knowledge, resources and processes that enable dioceses and parishes to advance the mission of Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Spirit.
For many years I was chaplain at Monash Hospital in Melbourne. It is a large public hospital with an extensive emergency care, coronary care and intensive care wards, plus a large maternity section with a neo-natal ward. It was in this latter section that I had many calls, nearly always at night (why are babies born at night?). Here little children, new born, early born, struggling with life, were the focus of intensive one-on-one nursing. It was a ward where many nurses eventually gave in to the emotional pressures of this form of nursing and moved on to something else.
Each time I visited there, I was treated with great respect by the nurses as I endeavoured to minister to anxious parents and their infant sons or daughters. I would go home, toss and turn for the rest of the night, wondering at the beauty of these new-born children and the tender care given to them by the doctors and nurses. Some would survive and go home to loving families. Others, struggling with the fragility of life, would yield at last to death.
Pope Francis has written: “The flesh of that newborn baby is light for revelation to the nations. How can that flesh be light? Our image of the world, our dreams, our projections are linked with the history of our flesh” (Pope Francis, Open Mind, Faithful Hearts, p.255). Of course, Francis is speaking of the newborn Jesus presented in the Temple to Simeon.
But I think it can be the story of many a pastoral planner. We struggle with concepts, ideas, programs, plans and actions; their coming to birth a laborious exercise; their struggle to come to fruition strenuous; their failures frustrating; their combatting ideology wearing. Yet we continue, like the midwives, to nurture and give life to our dreams, our projections, within the history of our Church, our dioceses, and our parishes. And there can even be voices opposing what we are trying to achieve.
What we nurture is Christ, and we hold him in our arms as did Simeon in the Temple. Pope Francis goes on to say, “The old man was carrying the child, but the child was guiding the old man” (ibid, p.256). It is a beautiful portrait of the work of pastoral planners: we are carrying in our work Christ for the world, but it is He who is guiding us in the midst of the struggle for the life of our Church.
– Fr Martin Dixon Chair, NPPN