Editor’s Note

Church attendance has been declining since the pandemic. A common lament among the clergy is that church attendance is still not back to normal, that is, how it used to be pre-pandemic.

Sep 30, 2022

By Patricia Pereira
Church attendance has been declining since the pandemic. A common lament among the clergy is that church attendance is still not back to normal, that is, how it used to be pre-pandemic. We would have probably expected the faithful to return in droves once restrictions and SOPs were relaxed. But unfortunately, this is not the case.

What is the real cause? Has the pandemic simply exacerbated a trend we hadn’t noticed?

The clergy and the various ministries have chosen to see this as a season of challenge, potential and renewal like we haven’t seen in a long time. Parishes are organising retreats and sessions for parish leaders and the faithful (see Growing in the Spirit Seminar formation for leaders, pg 3; Understanding the Eucharist & Retreat for Legionaries, pg 5), while others are finding ways to ‘attract’ the crowd back by having brainstorming sessions or organising Family Day activities (see pg 6).

There has never been a season without some church departures, the common one being during clergy transfers, but this post-pandemic departure appears to be more concerning. The question is ‘why?’ Why are some people not planning to come back to church? And is there anything we can do about it?

Perhaps we need to leverage on the communal nature of church gatherings. Church isn’t just where we worship…it’s where we worship together. Church isn’t just where we pray…it’s where we pray together. And Church is where we create human connections, which is something many people crave for. And so, perhaps the various retreats and family days are steps in the right direction. We hope and pray these activities will bear the desired ‘fruit’.

More on departures, the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur bids farewell to the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM) Sisters (see FMDM Sisters complete mission in KL Archdiocese, pg 3). Many will remember them for their invaluable service, especially in the areas of education, counselling, healthcare clinics and their work with the migrants and youths, among others. What happens now? Does their mission continue? Are we, the laity, ready and willing to step in and assume the responsibilities that the sisters have been shouldering these past 32 years or will we close the chapter on their works of service and relegate it to the annals of our historical archives?

Moving on to history and archives, the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur is currently on a mission to protect and preserve its cultural heritage (see pg 7), while the Diocese of Malacca Johore will be celebrating its golden jubilee in December this year. In commemoration of the jubilee, we are featuring the history of the churches in the diocese and kicked off with the oldest church in the country – the Church of St Peter, in our September 25 issue. This week we feature the history of the Church of St Francis Xavier, Melaka (see pg 12).

While in the midst of collating write-ups from the parishes, we discovered that we are at a disadvantage when it comes to remembering our history. Every parish has a story that is worth telling but many of us (clergy and laity alike) have become so focused on the here-and-now. We become obsessed with the next page of the diary, on the current liturgical season or the latest parish project, so much so that it is easy to forget that our parishes are museums of ‘unwritten history’.

Parishes are not expected to be mini-versions of the National Archive but common-sense should help us in keeping newsletters, orders of services of important events, significant correspondence and e-mails, photos, and so on.
In an often-quoted speech, Pope Paul VI once said to a group of Church archivists:

It is Christ who operates in time and who writes, He Himself, His story through our papers which are echoes and traces of this passage of the Church, of the passage of the Lord Jesus, in the world. Thus, having veneration for these papers, documents, archives, means having a veneration for Christ, having a sense of the Church; it means giving to ourselves, and to those who will come after us, the history of the passage of this phase of ‘transitus Domini’ in the world.

In other words, even the most mundane details of parish history – an old account book, say, or a musty newsletter — tells us something of the transitus Domini, ‘the passage of the Lord Jesus’ at a particular time in a particular corner of the Lord’s vineyard.

An archive, seen with the eyes of faith, is a record of the work of God in time and a monument to the power of Him who preserves the Church despite her many human weaknesses and tensions. Let us keep our eyes open to the great museum of unwritten history that lies in front of us; let us discover it, use it and learn from it!

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