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Church's 'Journey' will lead to a new and better place

"Journey in Faith and Grace" is the ongoing program of spiritual revitalization initiated by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec launched the journey last June, with the goal of reimagining the Catholic Church in the eight counties of Western New York, saying, "This is a time of grace. This is what God is calling us to do."

This is a wonderful opportunity for the faithful to create positive change that will ensure that parishes have the membership and resources to be vibrant centers of Catholic life, and to foster academically excellent and financially sound Catholic schools that give witness to Gospel values through their environment, teaching and activities. We are laying the groundwork to make sure that our parishes and Catholic schools will be able to continue to carry on an effective ministry in the 21st century.

It is clearly evident that in the coming years, if vocation trends continue, we as a diocese will not have enough priests to serve all 273 of our parishes and missions. Discussions are now under way in every corner of the diocese regarding the future of parish life.

Recommendations regarding parish configurations will be made at the parish level by the end of this year. They will be sent through vicariate councils and the diocesan strategic planning commission to Kmiec, who will make final decisions based on those recommendations.

It is very much a collaborative process, something the bishop has encouraged. He said he would make his decisions only after hearing from those who are involved in the process. Some early decisions will be made this year, but most will be announced in 2007 with implementation to follow.

There will be parish and school closings, mergers and parish clusters. The Diocese of Buffalo is also working on a carefully coordinated plan for the future use of buildings that will no longer be in use. Transfiguration Church in Buffalo is often cited as an example of what happens when a parish closes. Bishop Edward D. Head put aside the demolition permit in order to sell the church to a member of the community who wanted to save it for posterity. The current owner has allowed the property to fall into ruin.

The diocese has an excellent track record of reusing buildings or selling them for uses that will benefit the community. That practice continues.

The reach of the Catholic Church in Western New York is significant. Our parishes provide outreach to local communities in countless ways. Catholic Charities serves more than 180,000 people in need every year. Catholic colleges, universities, high schools, elementary schools and religious education programs educate more than 113,000 students annually.

And the Catholic Health System cares for hundreds of thousands of Western New Yorkers each year at its four hospitals and 31 other sites and facilities across the region. The system annually contributes more than $22 million in charity care and community service.

We remain true to our mission to live out the Gospel values of Jesus Christ.

Kevin A. Keenan is director of communications for the Diocese of Buffalo.

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