2013 was a year of changing landscapes in the church, too

While the tornadoes of Nov. 17 and last April’s floods changed the landscapes of neighborhoods and even entire communities in central Illinois, 2013 will be remembered in the Catholic Church (both locally and around the world) for some historic shifts as well.

Topping them all, of course, was the election March 13 of Pope Francis. From the moment former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped out on the Vatican balcony as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI — whose decision to retire had already sent shockwaves through the church — the words and actions of our new Holy Father have captured the imagination and hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Nationally and in our own state, the legal and cultural push to redefine marriage made news throughout 2013. Suddenly, or so it seems, what Catholics have always held as divinely revealed foundational truth — that marriage unites a man and a woman — is not only a matter of debate but our beliefs are labeled by some as bigoted and discriminatory.

In the Diocese of Peoria, the configuration of our parishes changed dramatically last year as the recommendations of the Growing in Faith Together consultation process began to be implemented. Faith communities with histories going back 150 years were blended. Two new parishes were created — The Nativity of Our Lord in Spring Valley, uniting three former parishes in that city — and St. Andrew in Fairbury, resulting from the mergers of parishes in Chatsworth, Fairbury, Forrest, and Strawn. While the changes created new opportunities to share talents and resources, make new friendships in Christ, and improve ministries, there was also sadness in farewells to parish identities and/or the losses of regular Masses at familiar, beloved churches in places with long, Catholic stories such as Alexis, Bongard, Camp Grove, Eagle Township, Keithsburg, Kewanee (St. Francis), Oquawka, Ottawa (St. Mary), Peoria (St. Peter) and Rutland.

Construction of new facilities changed landscapes especially in the Peoria Catholic community. The promotion of the sanctity of human life was bolstered by the blessings of a new, permanent home for the Family Resources Center and the establishment of a Women’s Care Center. Construction sounds were a constant at St. Jude Parish in Peoria, which completed a new Catholic school and began work on a convent to house four new Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. And the medical community took a leap into the future with the dedication of the $51 million Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center on the campus of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

The retirements of seven priests and the ordinations of four reshaped the look of the diocese’s presbyterate. We said goodbye to several clergy and religious leaders.

The “Year of Faith” proclaimed by Pope Benedict was embraced by local Catholics in many ways, including by welcoming relics of two heroes of the faith separated by 2,000 years — Blessed John Paul II and St. Mary Magdalene. It was made especially tangible by the responses to the disasters of nature that struck communities including Marseilles, Washington, and Gifford.

What changes, personally or collectively, will 2014 bring? The new chapter is just beginning, but this much is certain. The Holy Spirit has more surprises in store. — Thomas J. Dermody

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