By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published January 17, 2013
We Catholics are decidedly territorial by nature, and most of us tend to view our Church through a neighborhood lens. For many communities that may have a high Catholic population percentage, it is not uncommon for some folks to identify their local parish with the entire neighborhood—“I’m from St. Linus Parish,” which may be used to describe all of the territory of St. Linus as well as all of its inhabitants—whether they happen to be Catholic or not.
I was reminded of that Catholic tradition a week or so ago in front of our Cathedral. After Mass a gentleman stopped by to say hello and to tell me that he was visiting from “St. Catherine’s Parish.” I immediately thought that he must be from Kennesaw, or Jefferson or perhaps Trenton in the Archdiocese of Atlanta—all of whom have a St. Catherine (or Katharine) Parish. He said no, he was from Pennsylvania.
I then asked him which diocese in Pennsylvania—and he had to stop and think for a while. I asked him which large city was near his parish, and he said Harrisburg. I told him that he was probably from the Diocese of Harrisburg, and he looked at me as though I had suggested he might have been from another country.
His identity was as a parishioner of St. Catherine’s Church and that was specific enough for him. I didn’t bother to complicate the matter by then asking him whether it was St. Catherine of Siena or St. Catherine of Genoa or St. Catherine Labouré or St. Catherine of Bologna or St. Catherine of Alexandria or St. Katharine Drexel. I felt it was probably best to leave his parish of St. Catherine in her most unspecified possibilities.
The truth is for most Catholics, their parish is the Church because that is where they encounter Christ most personally and most often—that is where they participate in the Sacramental life of the Church and where they know most other Catholics. It’s a natural reaction, and the fact that I mentally went through all of the St. Catherine parishes here in the Archdiocese in my own mind is an indication that bishops tend to be pretty territorial as well—for me, the Church is largely identified with the territory of the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Nevertheless, we are all called to realize that the Church is much more expansive than our own local parish—or in the case of the Archbishop—than the boundaries of this local Church. We are all invited to see ourselves as members of the Church Universal and as brothers and sisters to Catholics the world over.
The very name Catholic means universal—a Church with no borders.
The Annual Archbishop’s Appeal is one way for our parishioners to participate in the mission of the wider Church beyond their parish. It is a source of support for ministries beyond the individual activities of any one of our parishes. It is one way for all of us to support the work of the Church that goes beyond our parish boundaries.
Many parishes do have significant outreach programs that represent the generosity of a particular community to the Church in mission lands, to the needy in a particular area or to a sister parish in another part of our nation. But the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal is a joint activity in which we all engage to advance the work of the Church throughout the Archdiocese and to help people who often may not even be Catholic themselves but who need our assistance. It is a way of being Catholic beyond our parishes and of working together for the Church that lives in a larger arena than we might ordinarily envision.
Thank you sincerely for your generosity both to your own local parishes and to the ministries that they embrace—and of course to the Archdiocese of Atlanta and to the Church that lies beyond even our own boundaries.