New Catholic pastor is here to listen

Rev. Carlos Flor, the new pastor of Jamaica Plain’s three Roman Catholic parishes, plans to spend his first year on the job learning about the neighborhood’s needs, he said in a Gazette interview last week.

“I am very happy to go there,” said Flor, who started as pastor June 5. He said he will “get acquainted with the parishes, with the communities, with the people who are working there right now, to get to know them, get to know what they need.”

Flor is involved in a sometimes controversial movement called the Neocatechumenal Way and operated its programs at his previous post as parochial vicar at Revere’s Immaculate Conception parish. But, he said, he would bring The Way to JP only if it seems like a good fit after a year’s consideration.

“It’s not that I arrive and impose my terms,” Flor said. “I am not in Jamaica Plain to bring the Neocatechumenal Way.”

What he will do, he said, is “help the parishes of Jamaica Plain to be stronger communities of faith. By strengthening the parishes, hopefully…[they] will also be of service to the neighborhoods.”

He noted that one of the local parishes, Egleston Square’s St. Mary of the Angels, is particularly “very involved in social issues” and community organizing as that kind of neighborhood service.

The other JP parishes are Our Lady of Lourdes on Brookside Avenue and St. Thomas Aquinas on South Street.

Flor, 45, was born in Spain and speaks four languages: English, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Spanish-language Masses are important at JP’s three parishes, which Flor said are “actually six,” referring to the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking congregants at each parish.

Before coming to the Boston area about eight years ago, Flor served as a priest in Newark, N.J. parishes.

“I’m a man who has traveled a lot and seen a little bit of everything,” he said.

Flor is replacing Rev. Alonso Macias, who arrived last year to oversee the merger of JP’s parishes into one pastorship and administration. Macias was popular here and his reassignment to a Marlborough parish after about 14 months as pastor raised concerns in the congregations.

Flor praised the work of Macias and the parish steering committee, saying, “They’ve done a nice job with collaboration.”

While recent parish church bulletins have said that Flor’s arrival is part of a new focus on evangelism, Flor said that is not the case.

“I am positive there is no agenda,” he said.

The Way, a movement that Flor credits with leading him back to the Church as a young man, is known partly for evangelism. In Revere, followers of The Way engage in residential door-knocking to inform people about Catholicism.

Flor said that he will remain personally involved in The Way, which forms small groups of parishioners modeled on early Christian communities and holds a Saturday evening Mass, among other practices.

The Way has sparked controversy within the Church that the movement is divisive, even heretical. But the last four popes have all given it their blessing, praising the way it energizes congregations and brings people back to the Church. Flor said that while Catholicism is diverse by definition, that can be challenging for believers, and he noted that every new movement in the Church was once criticized.

“St. Francis was persecuted. The Jesuits were persecuted,” Flor said. Another controversial movement, Opus Dei, is “followed by thousands, and at the same time, others criticize it,” he said.

“The Neocatechumenal Way brings a very powerful tool of evangelism by creating strong Christian communities” that lead by example, Flor said. But, he added, “It’s not the only way. It’s one way.”

The parishes will continue more familiar evangelism and public service, he said, include the essential mission to “feed the poor, console the sick” and offer comfort in general.

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