Father Tony speaks about the NFPC Convocation and some of the challenges of parish life with John Harper on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air, January 31, 2017

morning-air-thumb-270 (1)In a short interview that covered a lot of ground, Fr. Tony began by summarizing, “A lot of people, I think, aren’t really aware of all the things that we can provide on an ongoing basis…. We are a great resource for any sort of research that priests or a presbyterate needs to have done on just about any issue within the church.”

The discussion moved to the NFPC’s National Convocation of Priests, and Fr. Tony defined the focus based on the theme, Forging a Future with Pope Francis, as taking a look at how we move forward using Pope Francis’ vision. Presentations will include Bishop McElroy from San Diego to talk about the pastoral theology of Pope Francis, as well as presentations on immigration, millennials, and also CARA’s latest research on Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century.

John asks if there is a sense of hope among Catholics that church attendance will grow.  Fr. Tony suggests the challenge is in keeping the people focused forward “…show them there is hope in what God is asking us to do at this moment.”

As far as the younger generation, Fr. Tony believes millennials are “very focused on social justice issues, like the March for Life, and when we can provide them an opportunity to express their faith in a way that is substantial like that, they respond and they respond well.”

When asked how to incorporate new generations with those who want to hold on to the past, Father Tony summarizes, “We have to get past the incidentals and get back to the essentials.  That is the trick as a pastor, to remind people that it’s not about [the little incidentals] but really focus on the Eucharist, get our people back to what is the core of our Catholic faith. And once you can do that then they begin to dialog about… which incidentals feed [the essentials] and which are just fluff.

Fr. Tony explains he handles running the NFPC and four parishes in Ohio because of two sets of amazing staff! Dedicated lay people are so important to his work. The Diocese of Pittsburgh is starting a 2-year program to develop lay ecclesial ministers as part of management teams for their parishes. Fr. Tony hopes to spend time with them as this develops to see if NFPC can promote this process to other dioceses.

With the broad scope of Relevant Radio’s base, John asks how can those listening outside the U.S. help the NFPC? Fr. Tony encourages them to help their local priests and their national organizations for priests. He says encourage your priest to leave for a couple of days and go to annual meetings or meet with their brothers inside their diocese, that the parish won’t fall apart if they leave for a couple of days.  John says maybe even help fund a trip for your priest to the National Convocation. Agreed!

John and Fr. Tony dialogue about how this can build a vibrant parish community. The parish learns they can take over some of the priest’s workload and it makes for a more involved parish even when he gets back, helping build a great two-way exchange.

Fr. Tony: “When you do that, when you are in that dialog, then it builds a bond of love between the pastor and his people. You are no longer just a functionary for a group of people. You really are their spiritual father.”

Learn more about the NFPC and the National Convocation of Priests, April 24-27, 2017 in Anaheim, CA at nfpc.org