Paulist Father Ricky Manalo, a composer, author and educator now based at the Paulist Fathers Motherhouse in New York, offered a presentation Nov. 17 at St. Clare Church in Southwest Portland on challenges to parish ministry in the coming decades.

As he greeted the crowd, Father Manalo said he was pleased to be back in Portland, and that some of the best years of his life were at St. Philip Neri Parish in Southeast Portland, where he ministered as a young priest. He also led the people in singing one of his latest compositions for Oregon Catholic Press (publisher of this newspaper).

Father Manalo then discussed three converging challenges: the growing numbers of divisions within communities and church; the increasing number of “Nones”; and the ever-increasing technological expectations of modern life.

While the media and politicians focus on divisions, our faith demands we create a common ground for listening to one another, he said. “The way you pastorally bring people together is to listen to them,” he said. “We need to develop better listening skills.”

About Nones (those who answer “none” when asked about their religious affiliation), Father Manalo noted that group’s boundaries are porous and merge into what he calls the “Somes” — who sometimes attend Mass.

He said talking about salvation is a non-starter for Nones, who are more relational than institutional or individualistic. Dialog with Nones can begin with shared beliefs — like the belief that God is everywhere. He described Catholics as having “belief, belonging and behaviors” whereas Nones are about being and becoming. “We have to put belief, belonging and behaviors into dialog with being and becoming,” he said.

With regard to technology and faith, Father Manalo recalled Pope Francis’ historic 2015 evangelization conference in Manila, Philippines, when three OCP composers — Ken Canedo, Jesse Manibusan and Father Manalo — were invited to lead music.

Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle asked conference-goers if they’d been using their phones during the conference. He said “shame,” if they had. But, he added, everyone was now to take out their phone and compose a message of blessing and faith — but that they should not hit send until after the final blessing, when everyone would send their messages around the world.

That use of technology brought people together, Father Manalo observed.

He also offered the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic had jump-started the church in its use of technology, through livestreamed Masses, greater efficacy of some parishes’ websites and more.

He finished with recommendations, beginning with urging the promotion of elements of parish life that the internet cannot compete with — like the value of gathering in person, and the spiritual nourishment found at Mass.