PHILADELPHIA Archbishop Charles Chaput's letter to parishioners - signaling a "painful" period in 2012 and beyond - is "a call to engagement" for the city's Catholics, says a South Philly blogger who has become the go-to guy for what's happening in the church.

People will focus on the "institutional part" of the letter - "my parish is closing, my budget is shrinking," Rocco Palmo, 28, author of the blog Whispers in the Loggia said yesterday.

But, "the important part is the attitude," he said. "Everyone needs to rethink what it means to be Catholic. The future of the church in Philadelphia is not going to be determined by the number of schools or the size of the budget," but in how people renew themselves, their service and their Christian zeal.

Chaput's letter, dated Dec. 8 - the date of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and three months after his installation as archbishop - was to be read at all parishes yesterday. (Palmo, however, heard from family members that it was not read at one South Philly parish in the morning.)

The letter, available on the Archdiocese's website, notes that Catholics will face a "painful" and "grave" year. It mentions the high-profile March clergy child-abuse trial and the need to help victims heal; a blue-ribbon commission that is expected to recommend school closures in January; and the need to scrutinize "the number and location of our parishes" and "every one of our archdiocesan operational budgets."

Palmo applauded Chaput for being "transparent."

Past archbishops, he said, issued letters trying to contain an urgent scandal.

Chaput was expected to fly back to Philly yesterday after having been in Rome since late November. On Dec. 1, he had a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

The fact that the letter was to be read yesterday - when Chaput was still away from Philadelphia - appeared to offer a sense of "urgency" to his call for parishioners to renew their Catholic faith, Palmo said.

Paul Pedlow, an English teacher at Northeast Philly's Archbishop Ryan High School, said that the letter was read at his Fox Chase parish yesterday.

Of pending school closures, he said:

"I hope the decisions made will be wise."