Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 1, 2003
Faith communities allow their souls to soar
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Pope John Paul in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America (The Church in America) writes about the renewal of parishes: "One way of renewing parishes, especially urgent for parishes in large cities, might be to consider the parish as a community of communities and movements. It seems timely therefore to form ecclesial communities and groups of a size that allows true human relationships. . . . The institution of the parish thus renewed can be a source of great hope. It can gather people in community, assist family life, overcome the sense of anonymity, welcome people and help them to be involved in their neighbourhood and society.
"In this way city parishes can promote nowadays a more person-centred evangelization and better cooperate with other social, educational and community work."
These observations of the pope on the evangelization of urban parishes are a strong challenge that invites us to boldness in the way we perceive our ministry in larger city parishes.
In the Edmonton area people like Redemptorist Father Jack Spicer, Grey Nun Sisters Annette Potvin and Alice Toulalan have developed and promoted programs for small group sharing based on the Scriptures, especially the Sunday readings. These programs include short commentaries of the readings along with questions to help small groups of people share meaningfully thus becoming small faith communities within the Church.
There are also powerful movements such as the Cursillo, the Live-Ins and the charismatic renewal among others that encourage people to meet as friends to share and pray together in small groups on a weekly basis. The Oblate Mission Team's approach to parish mission includes a strong component we call "listening centres" that are small faith communities which the pope refers to when he writes about the parish becoming "a community of communities."
In the preparation of the Oblate parish mission, the parish is divided into zones of some 40 families that will be visited and presented with a personal invitation to participate in three consecutive Bible sharing evenings in a home nearby. These are called listening centres and they provide an opportunity for people to meet fellow parishioners and engage them in conversation perhaps for the first time.
A three-year biblical program based on the themes of discipleship, community and mission have been prepared to help sharing the Word of God which results in people who were strangers from across the aisle to become friends.
Being Church is all about enabling for meaningful relationships to evolve among parishioners. It takes place by getting to know people, understanding where they're at, sharing their joys and their struggles as well as their history.
Our model for this is the Blessed Trinity. The course one takes in the seminary on the Trinity deals mainly about the relationship of love between God and the Son which is so real and intense that that very relation is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
And we human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are profoundly and instinctively called to be creatures of relationships, people who need to connect with others in order to survive and attain their potential. We know that babies will not develop fully unless they are cuddled, caressed, kissed, rocked, spoken to, tickled by their parents and siblings.
Anonymity in the home is a contradiction in terms. So should it be also in the Church, the family of God. Small faith community programs such as the ones mentioned above provide the opportunity for people to come out of their shell and begin to relate with people who shortly before were total strangers and now have become more like brothers and sisters.
Can we as the family of God afford to pass this up and go back to our loneliness and sterile isolation? Jesus said: "I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full." That's why Jesus formed a small faith community, his disciples, people of varied backgrounds, and helped them gather as a family, committing their lives to a project of bringing together God's scattered people and make of them the family of God.
The pope's invitation for the Church to become a community of communities opens a door for all of us to discover the brother, the sister, in the stranger we've seen across the aisle for years and have not had yet the courage to embrace warmly.
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