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Forming Disciples in Mission

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The June 6 workshop had been a rousing success. Would history repeat itself?

Susan
Abbott

filled with the urgency -- almost panic -- that comes with recognition that ... it's over. Unofficially, summer is over. Meteorological autumn was just three days away! But by 8:20 a.m., people began arriving at the Pastoral Center to attend the second, open-to-all, workshop on evangelization and discipleship. Michael Lavigne, Assistant Secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship and Patrick Krisak, Director of Training and Support and their team organized the day. Father Matt Williams, Faith Formation Director, was available to hear confessions and celebrate Mass for the group.

The June 6 workshop had been a rousing success. Would history repeat itself? The registration list was impressive: pastors, deacons, religious sisters, parishioners and staff from all three phases of Disciples in Mission, people from parishes not yet in a collaborative, two Pastoral Center employees, and a contingent from the Diocese of Manchester, N.H. They came early, stayed late, and brought great energy to the day.

Speaking about evangelization and the new evangelization, Patrick asked: "How would you share the Gospel message? How would you tell someone about Jesus?" One person responded, "Jesus is my strength, someone I go to in times of need and to celebrate the joys in my daily life." Another person answered with a question: "Have I told you what Jesus has done in my life?" Evangelization Trainer Tom Lyman picked up on this as he spoke about our call to holiness of life, "At one point it almost seemed that the Church had 'out-sourced' holiness to priests and nuns, but holiness is a call to all of us." Kathryn Boyle, another Evangelization Trainer, led people through a process of how to share their personal story of coming to know God. Encouraging the group, she said that witness stories rouse curiosity in the listener.

Keeping the focus on evangelization, a video presentation by Bishop-elect Robert Barron spelled out seven traits of a new evangelist. The first quality is having an intimate friendship with the Lord. Another, is having a missionary heart.

Bishop-elect Barron pointed out, "That 75 percent of Catholics don't go to Mass is a tragedy." He noted that the Church has gone through a terrible crisis and, in times like this, God always raises up people to bring the Church back. The new evangelization is the call of our time. Tom Lyman emphasized that helping others along their faith journey -- helping to form disciples -- "is not a program, it's a way of life." Participants responded with enthusiasm and universal agreement that, "It's okay to speak about Jesus."

With great energy, Michael Lavigne led the mid-afternoon discussion on making our parishes centers of the new evangelization. Returning to the basic principle of personal discipleship, he wondered, "Maybe the people who aren't coming aren't to blame. Maybe we're to blame. We have to try new things." Participants described an evangelizing parish as a place where people become disciples; all are really welcome; the Gospel is really taught; people work for the common good; and, so important, an evangelizing parish exudes joy. Lavigne conceded that evangelization is hard work and sharing a common vision is hard work. He stressed the effectiveness of small faith groups, "Small groups work -- they have worked since the very beginning." There are many options for small faith groups, parishes can find the format that works best in their local context.

Patrick Krisak ended the day with a look at gateway moments -- when people come seeking something only the Church can give, such as sacraments, funerals, visits to the sick. He encouraged participants to read Cardinal O'Malley's pastoral letter "A New Pentecost," which describes the components of an evangelizing parish.

After closing prayer, there was no stampede to the door! People lingered to continue conversations, exchange contact information with new friends, and speak with presenters. When people did leave, they were smiling and grateful.

Evaluations clearly indicate that the Holy Spirit was at work in the auditorium: "I'm excited to do something new, to 'Go make disciples'"; "Thank you very much, this was wonderful -- lots to consider and initiate. Looking forward to more." Some noted the length of the day (9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) "an overwhelming amount of information to cover in one day, but worth it." One participant wrote that the day "has given me the courage and wisdom to talk ...about how much I love Christ."

Information about upcoming Forming Disciples in Mission Workshops can be found at www.disciplesinmission.com/formingdisciples.

SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.

Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.

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