First year of ARISE program seen as a success

It has been a year since the ARISE Together in Christ program began and over time the Archdiocese of Boston has come together in celebration of this faith sharing endeavor and has been united by the weekly meetings held throughout the archdiocese. New friendships have been made, faith has been deepened and hope has been restored, said program coordinator Mary Ann McLaughlin.

The program was widely and positively received throughout the archdiocese, she said. So much so, in fact, that it surprised McLaughlin, who admits to worrying about its success at first. “Because of where we were as an archdiocese, we seemed to have one wave after another of struggles. I was worried that this may not have been the right time, so to see what has happened and to see how people have responded in such a positive way has really done my heart well.” Approximately 30,000 people at 160 parishes in the archdiocese signed up to participate in the small groups, which will meet during five, six-week sessions over the course of three-and-a-half years to discuss their faith. About 3,000 people signed up to serve as group leaders of the small faith-sharing communities. Another exciting and unexpected development, said McLaughlin, is that small groups of ARISE will meet in seven different languages, including American Sign Language, throughout the archdiocese.

Feedback was extremely positive from the more than 130 people who participated at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton, meeting weekly in 18 small groups since the beginning of October. Father John Sassani, pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians, said that his parishioners feel strengthened in their faith and more able to live it in their everyday lives.

“As eager as I was for this program to happen and as hopeful as I was regarding its beneficial effect, it seems to have exceeded all of my hopes and expectations,” said Father Sassani. “People who were looking forward to being part of a small community of parishioners for faith sharing and fellowship were delighted.  Those who went hesitantly, to test the waters, were pleasantly surprised, and are looking forward to Season Two.”

Shirley Cyr, who led a faith-sharing group of seven men at Norfolk Prison, said that the program was a welcome retreat from prison life for the approximately 70 inmates who participated in Arise. Cyr said that she saw lives change and the people in her group grow closer over the course of the program.

“The comfort level of our group grew quickly and encouraged and invited very intimate and personal sharing. There were many tears in my eyes as the stories unfolded about prayer, about following Jesus’ other daily until we meet again for our next Arise program in Lent.”

The faith sharing groups in the archdiocese are currently meeting to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the previous six week session that they just finished. Some of the groups will continue to meet in the ‘off time,’’ said McLaughlin. Most will take a break until the process begins in January with group leader training sessions to prepare them for the next phase called “Change Our Hearts,” which begins at the end of February.

“‘Change our Hearts’ is a paraphrase of a line from the psalms; a paraphrase in which we make a plea to God to help us become the people we were made to be,” explained McLaughlin. “It is connected with the liturgical year and during Lent we are all in a process of conversion and this is a time when all of us in the Church gather and ask in one voice ‘Change our Hearts’ because we can’t always do it on our own. We need grace and support from the community and that happens in Lent for us”

McLaughlin continued to encourage parishes and people, who have yet to sign up, to consider doing so. She said that training sessions are planned for December 6, 2008 at St. John the Evangelist parish in Swampscott and St. John the Baptist parish in Quincy for parishes that want to get onboard and be part of the Arise program in time for Lent. McLaughlin explained that the training sessions are designed to familiarize parishes and parishioners with the program in time to train the small community leaders in January.

The ARISE program was designed for the Archdiocese of Boston by RENEW International, a canonically recognized Catholic organization that fosters spiritual renewal. The program is an itinerary of adult faith formation that seeks to create small communities in the parishes.

“I really believe that there is a miracle happening in the archdiocese. Christ is really revealing Himself in remarkable ways in the small groups, where people are listening to the Gospel and relating it to their daily living and choosing to live the Gospel in a very intentional way,” says McLaughlin. “What is happening in small groups is beyond our expectations and to see it happening and to hear people talking about it is really wonderful.”