The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' planned multiyear eucharistic revival project will help the church address several of the challenges facing it, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said in an Oct. 5 address to the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference's annual meeting.
"We're all coming to the realization it's all about Jesus Christ," Archbishop Gomez, president of the USCCB, said in his livestreamed address to the meeting, held Oct. 3-6 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville.
About 500 people, including finance personnel from dioceses across the United States and several other countries, attended the meeting, which was held in person after the 2020 meeting was virtual.
The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference is an integrated auxiliary organization of the USCCB.
Archbishop Gomez noted that surveys in recent years have shown a growing number of U.S. Catholics who do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is among the most important teachings of the Catholic faith.
Other troubling trends include declining Mass attendance, fewer baptisms, marriages, first Communions and confirmations, Archbishop Gomez said.
To counter all these trends, he said, "the bishops are centering everything on the reality of the Eucharist."
The USCCB is developing a new document on the Eucharist that will serve as a foundation for a national eucharistic revival to reignite among the faithful a great love and understanding of the Eucharist, Archbishop Gomez said.
The three-year revival, he explained, will begin in July 2022, focusing on best practices for parish-based renewal first at the parish level, then the diocesan level, and finally at the national level in 2024, culminating with a National Eucharistic Congress.
"We need to center the life of the parish on the Eucharist," Archbishop Gomez said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the laity were not able to participate in parish life, and the many changes brought on by the pandemic have left people feeling they have no control over their lives, Archbishop Gomez said.
The eucharistic revival will provide an opportunity for the church to invite people to reconnect with their parish, he said. "It's providential we can think of a new beginning."
Many dioceses, parishes, and church entities are slowly recovering from the pandemic, said Susan Clifton, chief financial officer of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, and president of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference.
The pandemic has made the recruitment of staff more difficult, a trend seen in many sectors, Clifton said, as well as complicating the return to in-person teaching in schools.
People inside and outside the church are still dealing with the sense of isolation caused by the pandemic, she added.
"All dioceses, large, small and medium, we all face the same problems," Clifton said. The conference allows members to share ideas to address common challenges, she said, as well promoting the spiritual growth and ministry of diocesan finance officers.
The meeting program featured presentations on a variety of issues facing diocesan finance officials, including: the future of technology and its impact on the church; electronic giving for parishes and dioceses; Catholic social teaching and financial decision-making; and creating independent foundations to support Catholic schools.
Brian Cooper, chancellor and chief operating officer of the Diocese of Nashville, gave a talk about the diocesan staff's strategic and financial planning processes.
The question facing dioceses, Cooper said, is how to apply a business mindset to advance the diocese's mission of evangelization and care for the most vulnerable.
The answer, he said, is to create a ministry and staff management approach that optimizes resources and achieves the mission, with transparency and accountability.
The keys to a successful ministry plan, Cooper said, are: challenging and measurable annual goals and objectives; individual goals based on department/ministry objectives; monthly performance management, tracking and review; and an integrated annual performance review and merit process.
The important cultural attributes that lead to success are focus, teamwork and communication, Cooper said. "These attributes are always present in any successful organization."
Using the process has led to several successes in the Diocese of Nashville, Cooper noted, citing: an 11.7% increase in Catholic school enrollment in the last three years compared to an 8.4% decrease over the previous five years; a 19% increase in average weekly parish collections; a 38% increase in the per capita average in the Bishop's Annual Appeal for Ministries; and a 56% jump in the number of seminarians and deacon candidates in formation.
"The Lord's given us the grace to succeed and the Holy Spirit to walk with us," Cooper said. "But we must choose to take those first steps."
John Matthew Knowles, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, said it was good to return to a traditional, in-person meeting after last year's virtual event.
"We had a decision to make earlier this year as to how we would handle the conference," Knowles told the Tennessee Register, Nashville's diocesan newspaper. "We made a decision this was going to be a traditional conference. As a result, we have a much more robust conference."
Meeting in person allows members to "build professional and personal relationships that will last a lifetime," Knowles said.
"By most measures," he added, "this is as successful a conference as we've ever done."