By Matt LaBarre
Bishop Robert McManus has been responsible for overseeing the Worcester Roman Catholic Diocese for more than seven years now and has seen the diocese through a number of changes. His passion for reaching out to those who are without a church home continues to shape his decisions and his life.
“I’m very concerned about those who are un-churched in the United States, including Catholics who have drifted away from the church.” McManus says. “We’ve focused on ministering to people in their own language here in this diocese and helping families as well as individuals immerse themselves in our culture.
“We’re also utilizing many of the marvelous instruments in new technologies, reaching out to people through the ways people get their information.”
The diocese estimates that there are 310,000 Catholics in Worcester County, down from an estimated 350,000 a couple of decades ago. However, not everyone registers, especially some immigrants who have had bad experiences with governments in countries where they lived before coming to the United States, or those who afraid of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Only recently have church officials tracked “official” attendance at Mass, but there is general agreement from pastors and other church leaders that the number of individuals and families attending Mass is down significantly over the past 20 years.
One of the reasons that most attribute to that decline is the number of sexual abuse cases with priests involved. McManus’s predecessor, Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly dealt with most of those cases and instituted wide-ranging policies and procedures that all parishes must adhere to – policies and procedures designed to protect children and anyone from abuse of any kind.
McManus suggests that a primary goal for this diocese is to welcome back those who, for one reason or another, left the church. According to McManus, our culture has become so secular and families involved so much in activities, including activities on Sundays, that there is no day of rest, or time to spend worshiping together.
“Bypassing the opportunity to slow down, rest and spend time together with our families and in worship is very upsetting and very harmful,” McManus says.
Inviting young men and women to consider vocations in the church drives McManus and during the seven years he’s been in the Worcester Diocese he’s seen exciting progress. The Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies opened and nine Columbian seminarians have been invited and accepted those invitations to study here.
“For the first time in years, there is a renewed interest in vocations, and we’re blessed that so many young men from Columbia. In fact, three of the five young men who were just ordained are Spanish speaking because so many of our parishes need Spanish-speaking priests,” McManus says.
Reconfiguring parishes in the diocese has been challenging.
“I’d be horrified if people weren’t upset when their parish closed or was being joined with another parish to create a new one,” McManus says. “However, as the process has continued, people have been telling me more about how their parishes have been energized and have seen really wonderful renewal of pastoral energy. But the benefits have come at quite a price.”
From the re-configurations in Worcester to Clinton, to going from eight parishes in Fitchburg to four; or Southbridge where four parishes became one, it’s been a difficult journey for families and individuals to adjust to. However, the sense is that great foundations for the future are being laid through the changes, and a sense of excitement about the future has developed.