Periodically I’ll meet someone, and they’ll explain, a little defensively, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t have a parish.” What they mean, I suppose, is that they haven’t been inside a church in a long time. The fact is, everyone has a Catholic parish.
Catholic parishes are divided primarily along geographic lines. There are parishes set up for specific groups of people—often ethnic or language minorities—to allow them to worship in a community where they will feel most comfortable. These are officially called “personal parishes.” In the last century in the US, there were lots of these parishes in the US; there are fewer today.
But everyone, everywhere, is part of a Catholic parish. The church’s mission is to provide pastoral care to all people, and so every place on earth where people live, the church has appointed someone to provide that care. In sparsely populated regions, that pastor may be at a significant distance. But everyone is part of a parish.
Sometimes people believe that they’re only part of a parish if they’ve “signed-up” “registered” or if they get envelopes for the Sunday offering. But the church’s code of canon law doesn’t make any such distinctions. You’re part of a parish because the church offers you pastoral care, not because you’ve filled out a form.
If you aren’t sure what parish you’re in, the easiest way to find out is to call the office of your local diocese or archdiocese, and ask them. You can also visit a neaby Catholic parish, and they’ll be able to tell you if you live within their boundaries.
Local parishes are the center of the church’s life. They’re a place where you can find friends, a place to belong, and a place to worship. They are places where people like you find support, spiritual nourishment, and a community to share life’s sorrows and joys.