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Workshop offers new ways to provide life-changing encounters with Jesus

Last week 56 parish teams and over 150 people, including all four Archdiocesan Auxiliary Bishops and our Chancellor, participated in “The Gathering: Parishes Alive and on Mission.”

Fr. Frank Donio, from the Catholic Apostolate Center, was invited by the Catechetical, Priestly Personnel, and the Evangelization offices to provide an interactive Zoom workshop on implementing Missionary Discipleship. Pastors, Parish Catechetical Leaders, and many other parish leaders participated in the live Zoom event. Others will engage in the event together by watching the recording at a later time.

The pandemic has caused parish teams to deal with new challenges that arise each day and continuously adapt to serve their parish community. It would be an understatement to say this constant pace has caused many parish teams to feel drained as they try to make it through the next few months until the vaccine can become more effective and people feel more comfortable returning to Mass and other parish events in person. Understanding this reality, “The Gathering’s” primary goal was to offer parishes a day that would reenergize their community and assist them in moving forward beyond the pandemic.

The parish teams that participated were able to innovate new ways to provide life-changing encounters with Jesus, learn how to accompany all parishioners effectively, envision how to continue building a Christ-centered community, and send well-formed disciples out on mission.

As Auxilary Bishop Michael Saporito, Episcopal Vicar for Bergen County, explained, “The Gathering produced excitement about the pastoral mission of our parishes. It helped to form the participants with the vision for creating a culture where Missionary Discipleship becomes a reality. All that we can do is create environments for faith to grow. We must all rely on the power of the Holy Spirit for that growth to actually happen.”  

Fr. Frank utilized collaborative learning and interactive exercises to assist our parish teams to move their focus out of the present moment and reflect on how they could better serve the mission of Christ. In the first two sessions, he unpacked the four-fold methodology of Missionary Discipleship (Encounter, Accompany, Community, Send) presented in “Living as Missionary Disciples.” The second two sessions focused on the six dimensions of pastoral planning found in the same document:

• Permeated with prayer

• Focused on Fruitfulness

• Requires Leaders

• Rooted in the Teachings of Our Faith and Support by Foundational Pastoral Practices

• Engages and Inspires People Through a Culture of Encounter and Accompaniment, Building Strong Trusting Relationships

• Requires Intentional Stewardship

Living as Missionary Disciples suggests these six key dimensions to help parishes take the current pulse of their parish, establish effective ministry, and develop a successful pastoral plan.  

In-between each presentation, parish teams or mixed groups of priests and parish leaders were given time in breakout rooms to share best practices and reflect on implementing these ideas within their local parishes. The day focused heavily on the call to all the faithful to be co-responsible and collaborative in handing on the Faith.

One participant shared, “Being in a group setting with priests, pastors, and parish catechetical leaders allowed us to break the “silos” that can sometimes arise in parishes and gave us the opportunity to work collaboratively on vital topics facing our parish.”

Another participant said they were, “thankful to have an opportunity to hear from multiple parishes about what is working for them and for the time to be able to share ideas with other parish leaders. It is helpful knowing that we are all in this together!” 

Fr. Frank also connected the methods of Encounter, Accompany, Community, and Send along with the six dimensions to the pillars of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan “Forward in Faith Together.” The event sends the participants back to their parishes to engage the whole community and roll out the Archdiocesan plan through the lens of missionary discipleship.

As one participant explains, “they are planning to create more intentional follow up after Sacraments and other encounters, establish neighborhood gatherings/Zooms, and make time for more intentional planning and collaboration with their Spanish-speaking community.”

As an Archdiocesan team, we are so grateful to all the parishes who were able to attend and for all those who made “The Gathering” a success.

As Joanne DePasquale-Parent, Associate Director for Catechesis, emphasizes, “Working together with over 50 parishes and 150 people brought us so much joy!  Our office exists to accompany, serve, and support the pastors, PCLs, and all faith formation leaders of our parishes as we journey together to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Through the strong support, leadership, and presence of our auxiliary bishops and our chancellor, the gift of Fr. Frank Donio’s guidance and wisdom, and the collaborative efforts of the Catechetical Office, the Office for Evangelization, and the Office of Clergy Personnel, I believe we have made great strides forward to serving our parish leaders effectively.  We especially are grateful to Steven Serafin for his hard work coordinating this important opportunity for parish teams and archdiocesan leaders to rethink evangelization and missionary discipleship.”

If you could not attend the workshop and would like more information or the event recording and materials, contact Sarah Gordon at Catechetical.Office@rcan.org. The USCCB, in collaboration with the Catholic Apostate Center, has also created several resources to help each parish successfully implement the ideas initiated from the workshop. Those resources can be found here.   

Steven Serafin is Associate Director for Catechesis in Catholic Schools, Catechetical Office.