By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
On Christmas Day, Bishop Daniel Felton released a pastoral letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth and to all people living in the ten counties of northeastern Minnesota. Entitled “The Dawn from on High Shall Break Upon Us: Healing, Hope, and Joy in Jesus,” the letter is the fruit of listening sessions held across the Duluth Diocese in 2022 and is meant to serve as the foundation and inspiration for how the diocese will live its call as missionary disciples in the years to come.
Bishop Felton announced the letter both in a Christmas video message and in a letter read in parishes on Christmas.
“It’s not really my pastoral letter as much as the pastoral letter that has come about from the over 50 listening sessions that we had within our diocese,” he said in the video. “Remember when we were trying to discern what’s the next step that the Holy Spirit is calling us to as we move to mission? And so the pastoral letter is really a reflection of our common discernment together of what the Holy Spirit is calling us to as the next step [for] the Diocese of Duluth as we move to the mission that has been entrusted to us by our God.”
The title of the pastoral letter, taken from the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:78), reflects a theme Bishop Felton has turned to frequently in his ministry, of a “dawning moment” for the diocese. He has said that it reflects what many of the faithful expressed to him as he traveled the diocese in his first year as bishop: that after a period of difficulty and darkness there is new light appearing for the church.
“In recent times, we have been walking in the darkness of many challenges: the listing of priests with an allegation of abuse of a minor, bankruptcy, the merging and clustering of parishes, grieving the loss of Bishop Sirba, enduring the long wait for the appointment of the new bishop, the rise of coronavirus and its impact on all aspects of life, the decline in Mass attendance and reception of the Sacraments, the general decline in population for a majority of counties that constitute the Diocese of Duluth, and the list goes on,” Bishop Felton writes in the pastoral letter. “Let’s just say, the night has been long and dark.”
Coupled with “a change of era” that has left “many of the ways that we pass on our faith to others” no longer working, the bishop said it has been “hard to see a step forward” and the situation has cast people “deeply into hurt, despair and tribulation in our families, parishes and communities where we live.”
However, he said, God has not left us but is breaking into the darkness with healing, hope, and joy.
“As disciples in this divinely revealed moment of dawning, we walk from darkness into His light,” the bishop writes. “In this awakening moment, as disciples on mission, we discover, embrace and give witness to the vision and mission that was given to us from the very beginning when our diocese was begun in 1889, and now in our own time, by God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.”
The 17-page letter goes on to outline a “change of culture” in how the church will approach its missionary call, especially in regional areas of pastoral ministry called mission fields, with three emphases of healing, hope, and joy that build on each other.
“What is set before us is not only the change of time but also a change of culture that seeks to stand us on our heads so that we might see Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God and our mission and vision from a totally different perspective,” Bishop Felton wrote in a bulletin insert inviting people to read the pastoral letter.
“This change of culture includes moving from an attitude of scarcity to one of abundance; from organizing ourselves for decline to preparing ourselves for growth; from beginning with our diocesan pastoral offices for mission initiatives to beginning with the mission field for pastoral and mission strategy; from understanding the mission of accompanying others closer to Jesus as the work of clergy and religious to being the mission of all those who are baptized; from maintaining all of the programs and apostolates we presently have to sustaining only those programs and apostolates in alignment with enhancing our mission and vision; from pastors as administrators to pastors as shepherds of their mission field; from seeing our parish as the be-all and end-all of our missionary activity to the communities where we live as being the primary mission field.”
The bishop noted in the pastoral letter that its contents reflect a first step and part of a process of conversation. He said the new culture would be organic and that he expects with parishes and regions there will be a variety of ways of carrying out its vision, mission, and mission initiatives.
The pastoral letter can be found on the diocesan website in both written and audio formats.