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The Catholic Understanding of a Parish

What is a "parish"? Linguistically speaking, "parish" derives from a Greek word that means neighborhood. Thus, a "parish" is a geographical area that has a Church building within it. It refers to all the people in that area. The way that the Church uses the term "parish" is two-fold. In one sense it is specific to the Church, its Priest, and those who attend the Church. Yet, there is another sense that refers to the larger community than just the Church.

I once heard a man say, "I can't talk to a Priest, I'm not Catholic". It is a good thing there are people who do not think like that. Take, for example, the people who call or visit the Church and say that they want to convert and become Catholic. If everyone had the perspective that they cannot talk to a Priest unless they are Catholic, no one would ever convert. I do not know what made people think like that, but it is not the Catholic way of viewing the parish. The parish is the region that a Priest is assigned to; not just the Catholics within that area.

So, again, my parishioners are those who are registered at St. George and are under my spiritual care. But they are also anyone in the region, including non-catholics. The difference is: some parishioners know that they are members of the parish, and others do not, but all of them are under the Priest's care (either willingly, or unwillingly). The normal territorial diocese has specific boundaries, and they often apply them most specifically when it comes to the boundaries of specific parishes. In the Ordinariate we are not based on geography, so things are a bit different. In that sense, the "boundaries" of St. George parish are Kansas City, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Memphis (because they are about half-way to the next Ordinariate parish)! Yup, that is a lot of not

I heard a story once about a Priest who decided to knock on doors in the neighborhood around his Church and say, "My name is Fr. Smith, and I'm your Priest. Is there something I can pray for you about?" I was told he actually got some converts that way. You can be sure that the non-catholic religious groups took offense, but that is nothing new. I am not sure that it would work to say that to people today (people are much more resistant to door-to-door visits), but the principle is still true.

A Priest, therefore, is assigned to care for an area (which is his "parish"), and those in that area who are either Catholic or wanting to become Catholic can be cared for more directly and specifically once they place themselves under the care of the Priest. The rest he still cares for; no it cannot be as direct or complete as those who acknowledge his care, but it still exists. He does this by praying for all of them, being available when they call him, and making sure that they know he is there. Priests are not given a parish as a job, they are given it to plant the "flag" of Christ and say, "this is God's territory!"


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