The diocese Graz-Seckau is almost congruent with the federal territory of the Austrian province Styria. With regard to size, the diocese is the biggest in Austria, with regard to the number of Catholics living there, the diocese ranks third behind Vienna and Linz. 78,02 % of the people living in Styria are Catholic. The province used to be divided into a variety of industrial regions that shaped the whole province. After the decline of the industry, Styria rediscovered the economic potential of its thermal springs and is now well known for its spas. In 2003, Graz, the province's capital, was given the title "European Cultural Capital." Despite a high number of immigrants, the population is on the decline and many people commute or work abroad. The Catholic Church in Styria accepts the challenge of being close to the Austrian border and new members of the EU. Especially the "Mitteleuropäische Katholikentag" in 2004, a meeting of Catholics from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, offered the chance to establish a useful network of contacts. Inspired by this dialogue, the Church in Styria wants to be a sacrament of unity putting its main emphasis on mission, ecumenism, and social welfare work.
The diocese of Graz-Seckau is almost congruent with the federal territory of the Austrian province Styria, which covers 16.387 square kilometers and is thus the second biggest province of Austria. With regard to population numbers Styria ranks only fourth among the other Austrian provinces: at the end of the year 2006 there were a total of 1.151.678 people registered to be living in Styria. With regard to size, the diocese is the biggest in Austria, with regard to the number of Catholics living there (898.591), the diocese ranks third behind Vienna and Linz - so 78.02 % of the people living in Styria are Catholic.
Despite the high number of immigrants and refugees from former Yugoslavia who moved to Styria, the population of Styria is continuously declining. This is also due to the fact that a lot of people are moving away from former industrial regions in Upper Styria, which used to be famous for mining, iron and steel industry. Many people immigrating to Styria are Catholic (mainly from Croatia), many are Orthodox (from Serbia and Rumania) and an increasing number are Muslim (from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania and Turkey).
Social, Economical and Cultural Aspects
When it comes to economic diversity, Styria has a lot to offer: in the North, also called Upper Styria, tourism plays a major role. The former industrial belt in the Mur-Mürzfurche has lost much of its former importance. In Eastern Styria economic changes have had great effects on society: many people lost their jobs and now commute and work abroad in cities like Vienna and Graz. In this part of Styria, the economic potential of thermal springs has been discovered and so spas have become a whole new flourishing sector of economy. In the western part of Styria, the situation is not much different from the ones in northern and eastern Styria. The city of Graz and the surrounding areas are the places where people want to live and so the population there is continuously increasing.
In the last few years, Graz, the capital of Styria, political center and diocesan town, benefited from the settlement and expansion of the car industry. In 2003, Graz was given the title "European Cultural Capital." The II. European Ecumenical Council held in Graz in 1997 and the announcement of world heritage status of the historic center of Graz played a major role in the city's nomination. With new initiatives in ecumenical cooperation the Catholic and Protestant Church of Graz made a significant contribution to the city's year as "European Cultural Capital".
Styria accepts the challenge of being close to the Austrian border and new members of the EU, and the Catholic Church in Styria sparks religious and cultural incentives: the "Mitteleuropäischer Kirchentag," a meeting of Catholics from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the concluding event "Wallfahrt der Völker," the so-called "Pilgrimage of the Peoples." These initiatives offered the chance to maintain old and establish new contacts especially among parishes, which had secretly been in contact with each other in the time of the Communist Regime. These contacts facilitated a spiritual and cultural interchange among different peoples and parishes. Additionally, the neighbors and neighboring parishes did not only receive moral and spiritual but also economic support.
In this context, the Episcopal Castle Seggau in Leibnitz plays an important role. Since 2005, the province of Styria and the diocese of Graz-Seckau organize a European dialogue board called "Pfingst-Dialog Steiermark: Geist und Gegenwart" ("Pentecostal-Dialogue in Styria: Spirit and Presence"). Since 2006, Schloss Seggau has been the educational center of the diocese of Graz-Seckau and an international summer school, to which students from Southern Europe are primarily invited.
In the light of many changes in society and the churches, the representatives in the dioceses are engaging in regular discussions to formulate guidelines on pastoral care for the years to come. The starting point was a factual appraisal of the changes in society, the shortcomings in Religious Education and religious and spiritual knowledge as well as the existing resources and charismas in the dioceses. The representatives of the diocese of Graz-Seckau agreed on the following agenda of pastoral care for the next few years:
As a missionary and inviting community, on the one hand the Catholic Church in Styria wants to address church members to deepen their community with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the Church in Styria also wants to actively approach and concentrate on the questions and the search of meaning in life of people alienated or distant from faith and the Church.
The Sacrament of Unity
The celebration of the liturgy and the holy sacraments, especially the gathering and the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays, are important signs and sources of unity. This unity becomes visible in the parishes. Corresponding to the variety of life styles, there are contemporary and even experimental forms of church life outside parishes. Bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral assistants, and volunteers assume responsibility for pastoral care together. The engagement and dedication of people who work in the church on a voluntary basis are very important for the communities. Thus, it is the task of the representatives of the diocese, the pastoral assistants, and the R.E. teachers to facilitate and support voluntary work in the parishes and communities.
"To Lead is to Serve" - A Serving Church
The Catholic Church in Styria tries to fulfill its vocation as a "serving church." By means of charitable engagement of volunteers in the parishes and the work of the organization "Caritas," the Catholic Church is active on behalf of the poor and the socially disadvantaged and disenfranchised in Austria and other countries. Furthermore, the Catholic Church assumes responsibility for society as a whole. Today's challenges call upon the Church as a whole, not just the clergy but especially the laity, to concentrate their efforts on areas such as culture, politics, economy, science, and family.
An Ecumenical and Dialogical Church, Which is Open to the World
In the spirit of ecumenism, the Church in Styria tries to establish good relations with Christians of other denominations and keeps good contact with members of other religious and philosophical groups. Being grounded in ones own tradition is the prerequisite for interreligious dialogue. Living in a country with a language border, the Church in Styria wants to create an environment which fosters friendships among neighbors and thus stimulates reconciliation and solidarity in Europe and in the whole world.
The address of the Bishops during the "Wallfahrt der Völker" at the "Mitteleuropäischer Kirchentag" gives a concise version of the pastoral agenda of the diocese Graz-Seckau. These seven requests of the Bishops concerning the daily pastoral work were and are discussed on boards and in the parishes:
- Showing Jesus Christ to the people.
- Learning and teaching how to pray.
- Increase and deepen the people's religious and spiritual knowledge.
- Setting a statement.
- Observing Sundays.
- Life protection and development.
- Fostering solidarity in Europe and the whole world.
Pastoral Events and Plans
Pastoral care takes personal relationships. It is getting more and more difficult to make those contacts. On the one hand the anonymity in cities can be an advantage but on the other hand many people suffer from being lonely. Thus the diocese of Graz-Seckau launched a new initiative, which was introduced in the (print-)media accessible to the Church: at the turn of the millennium, volunteers and pastoral assistant from the parishes made house calls and visited almost every household in Styria. The campaign had "Welcoming the New Millennium in the Name of God" as its motto. In 2006, many households were visited to stress the meaning of Sunday and to present the people with a small desk lamp, a so-called "light of Sunday" and a brochure with ideas on how Sunday can be celebrated. In the province's capital Graz and many other cities such missionary campaigns have been very successful.
The "Mitteleuropäische Kirchentag" was a chance for many people in Styria to live and experience their Catholic spirituality in a new way. Since 1989, many Styrian parishes have been in contact with parishes in Croatia, Rumania, Hungary and Albania. And some parishes even made contacts with African, Brazilian, Indian and Korean parishes. A "Renaissance of pilgrimage" can be observed: many people have rediscovered places of pilgrimage in and outside of Austria and have found new places and new routes. Together with the political representatives in the region and the tourist industry, the diocese of Styria wants to encourage this trend and advise with regards to content.
The pastoral guidelines and the Mariazell Statement of the "Mitteleuropäischer Kirchentag" in 2004 have the importance of a pastoral agenda, have been discussed in many meetings on all diocesan levels, and play an important role for the future pastoral care in Styria.
Prior Pastoral Tasks in the Future
The task of becoming an inviting Church again is one of the major ones. The great number of people leaving the Church is a "pastoral wound" and makes it necessary to find ways to bring those people who have been alienated from the church closer to the church and God.
In the pastoral care for young people new ways have to be found: the persons in charge have to strike the right balance between only organizing events and offering effective pastoral care. Due to the aging society, a major point is also pastoral care for old people which offers opportunities and challenges: some people are lusty and still very active and really miss having a job and an aim in life. For those, pastoral care and church life might be an interesting field of activity. On the other hand, many old and sick people need looking after and so many parishes have projects engaging in terminal care.
Another challenge poses the change in "funeral culture." The spiritual guidance of people who have suffered a personal loss, and the organization of worthy and sensitive funerals will be a major task in pastoral care.
Opposing the trend of withdrawing to the "sheltered space" in the parishes, the Church has to go to considerable lengths to reach the "Areopagi" of our time. Making use of new media, such as print media or the internet, prove to be useful.
Prelate Dr. Heinrich Schnuderl
Head of the Pastoral Care Department, Diocese of Graz-Seckau