Arise program aims to renew, heal Boston Church

BRIGHTON -- A new program, entitled “Arise: Together in Christ,” will be the centerpiece of the celebration of the archdiocese’s 200th anniversary in 2008.

The Arise program was created by Renew International, a canonically-recognized Catholic organization based in Plainfield, N.J., in the Archdiocese of Newark. Renew fosters spiritual renewal in the Catholic tradition by empowering individuals and communities to encounter God in everyday life, deepen and share faith, and connect faith with action.

Coordinators of Renew in the Archdiocese of Boston say the program will give Boston Catholics a renewed awareness of who they are as the local Church.

Many parishes have signed up to participate in the faith formation program that will begin in fall 2008, though preparations have already begun.

From Sept. 24 to Oct. 4, pastors, parish staff and lay leaders had the opportunity to attend one of 10 information sessions on the program. Estimates through the last session found that representatives from almost every parish in the archdiocese participated, according to Mary Ann McLaughlin, co-coordinator of Arise and co-director of the Office for Worship and Spiritual Life.

“There has been a great positive response so far,” said Father Arthur Coyle, secretary for pastoral and ministerial services of the archdiocese, at a session held at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton Oct. 1.

Father Coyle said the Arise program has been designed to specifically address the needs of the Boston Archdiocese. The program is much needed in Boston “especially with what we’ve been through in the last five years,” he said, alluding to the clergy abuse scandal and parish reconfiguration.

“The Arise program for the archdiocese is a chance for us to really offer, I think, a grace to our people,” he added.

The archdiocese, through the Office for Worship and Spiritual Life, has worked with Renew for 10 years, but it was not until August 2006 that Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley decided to implement a program specifically designed for parishes in Boston, he said.

While Arise is archdiocesan-wide, it is parish-centered. Renew team members will train parish leaders and in turn, those leaders will form parish groups of 8-12 Catholics. Those groups will gather weekly to discuss the faith and reflect on a Bible passage.

When parishes sign up for the program, they participate in five six-week sessions over the course of three-and-a-half years. The annual fee for the program is $1,800 per parish, but scholarships will be available for parishes who cannot afford it.

Renew International was formed in 1978 and the Renew program has been utilized in 24 countries, 155 of the 170 dioceses in the United States and is currently working in over 30 dioceses in three countries. The program is offered in Spanish, Vietnamese, Brazilian and Haitian Creole.

Coordinators say that Renew is a proven formula that will create unity in the archdiocese.

Sister Theresa Rickard, OP, who presented the information sessions in Boston, said that the results of Renew are clear. Based on a 1999 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., 98 percent of participants would highly recommend Renew to others and 90 percent acknowledge considerable spiritual growth, she said.

To address the specific needs of the Church in Boston, Renew conducted a survey that showed that local Catholics are seeking to connect their faith with their daily lives and to share their faith, engaging young adults and new parishioners. They also want to enhance Sunday Mass with good music and an inspiring homily. The results are similar nationally, Sister Theresa said.

Once finding particular to Boston was that 27 percent of respondents said that “regaining trust in Church leaders” should be one of the top two goals of the program in the aftermath of both the clergy abuse scandal and parish reconfiguration, she said.

Arise is just one step in a long process of healing that will hopefully give Boston Catholics a renewed sense of hope in God’s redeeming love, she said.

Sister Theresa has seen the success of Renew firsthand when the program came to the inner-city parish in South Bronx where she served some years ago. The parish had many activities that gathered small groups of people together, she said.

“When Renew came, we had over 250 people meeting in small communities,” she said. “It gave us a structure, a strategy and a vehicle to train new leaders.”

Father Paul Ritt, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Chelmsford and member of the Presbyteral Council, said he is excited that the proven process of Renew has come to Boston.

Father Ritt, along with a small delegation from his parish, attended an information session on Oct. 2. After much consultation with parishioners, St. John’s leaders have agreed to participate in Arise.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our whole local Church to come together in unity, to grow in holiness,” he said. “The small, faith-sharing communities should strengthen our sense of belonging to the body of Christ and hopefully our commitment to serve Christ and the mission of the Church more effectively.”