What are your top concerns now, Father Aveni?
In what seems at first to be naiveté, the primary and most important concerns of the faithful have been with keeping many aspects of the parish as they have always been, including Mass times, traditions and operative liturgical and ecclesiastical styles. I have noticed at the core of this preservation, tones of fear, mistrust of the other parishes and at times clergy.
The energy used to carry the banners of those interests, may have been better directed at addressing the areas of temporal goods (finance and properties), staffing of the parishes/collaborative, not to mention developing the critical pastoral needs of the changing face of our town and collaborative, issues that all three parishes have been facing.
Our recent history includes the abuse crisis and the effect it has had on the parishes of Billerica such as decreased attendance, participation and contribution, and the increase in apathy and unresolved anger and woundedness especially in the parishes that were directly affected by abuse.
Other than timing, the pandemic would have had little, if any, effect on the eventual need to face merging the three parishes into one.
The soft landing of merging our parishes is that there will not be an abrupt closing of one or more parishes and loss of our assets. Properties will be brought together.
We cannot assume that we can continue business as usual, that nothing will change. This is not a pro-forma decision, the decision to merge will have significant effects on our parishes. Very soon after merging, we will need to assess the physical conditions properties, our actual needs and the feasibility of maintaining and operating our
properties. Staffing will need to be assessed and adjusted. A number of these changes will need to be made in the immediate future.
If the conditions were already critical at the time of introducing collaboratives in 2013, there would continue to be three independent stand-alone Parishes in Billerica. The need to form the three-parish collaborative at that time in Billerica had far less to do with the number of ordained priests than it did with the state of the three parishes.
We need to be realistic with the way we move forward, either in a concerted effort as one parish community made up of the three former parish communities, or as one parish community welcoming parishioners of one or two parishes forced to close because they are no longer viable.
I know these are difficult realities to face, and I could try to blame all my predecessors as Presidents of the US have enjoyed doing, but I am not going to do that. Our three parishes have been in grave danger for years, which is only exacerbated by the current condition of our world during this pandemic which has had adverse effects on many aspects of our lives.
Even if the pandemic were to end soon, the economic effects will likely take far longer to recover from, if ever. Like many companies and families, we need to act in the best interest of the People of God of Billerica.
Had I known this last April, would I have responded in the same way to the Cardinal’s request? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ My ministry has been guided by the Holy Spirit and under the patronage of the Blessed Mother for 22 years. God has called me to serve as the pastor of St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish. Though at times unbeknownst to me, God has already been providing me with the tools to lead in this particular situation. It is not me who will do this, it will be God working through all of us.
Let us not lose sight of that.
— Father Paul Aveni