Fall Formation Day explored ‘durable hope’ for ‘broken Church’

| Joe Ruff and Matthew Davis | December 5, 2018 | 0 Comments
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske talks about restorative justice at Fall Formation Day Nov. 29 at Guardian Angels in Oakdale.

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske talks about restorative justice at Fall Formation Day Nov. 29 at Guardian Angels in Oakdale. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Nearly 400 lay people, clergy, and religious men and women witnessed some of the grace that can come with telling their stories, sharing hurt, comfort and healing.

The mini “healing circle” experience was part of a day of faith formation at Guardian Angels in Oakdale Nov. 29 during a morning session led by Janine Geske, a retired law professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice.

“It was very practical,” Alma Qualy-Godinez said of the healing circles. She coordinates confirmation and leads youth ministry at St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center, and she is interested in bringing the concept to her parish. Like the other participants, she held a stone while speaking so others knew simply to listen; and she listened quietly when it was someone else’s turn to hold that same stone.

“A lot of times I get nervous when I talk, but there was a calming influence” in the stone, she said.

Like its counterpart in the spring, the annual Fall Formation Day is organized by Catholic leaders across the archdiocese and supported by several Catholic organizations. Organizers realized the need for people who work in parishes, the Archdiocesan Catholic Center and other areas of ministry in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to address the way they’ve experienced hurt and healing amid the Church’s sexual abuse crisis.

Organizers turned to Geske, a restorative justice expert whose work has addressed clergy sexual abuse, and who has worked with three parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — the Basilica of St. Mary and Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis and St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove — that are spearheading local restorative justice efforts.

The ripple effects of abuse and need for healing extend beyond immediate victims into the families, friends, fellow parishioners and neighbors of both victims and perpetrators, Geske said.

The harm from abuse is deep and lasting, said Geske, who described the good that can come from healing circles. Bruises heal, but sexual and other violations impact trust, security and the soul. “Harm is to the soul, who they are, who they can be with in relationship and trust,” she said.

The international sexual abuse crisis also has impacted the world’s view of the Church, said Geske, who is Catholic. “We’re going to be with this for a long time, emotionally, psychologically,” she said.

But there is hope and healing in honest sharing and acceptance, Geske said. “The truth has to be allowed to shine,” she said. “We need to have an opportunity to share in a safe environment.”

At the Fall Formation Day, titled “A Durable Hope: Sustaining Faith in a Time of Darkness,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda encouraged parish and ministry leaders to incorporate the healing circle concept in their work as they seek ways to promote healing. The pain and suffering wrought by clergy sexual abuse must be faced, the archbishop said, and walking together is the only way through it — with Christ as the guide.

“We can encounter the suffering Christ in a way that begins to serve healing,” Archbishop Hebda said at the daylong gathering. “We can begin to reflect on moving the next inch, yard and mile as we go forward.”

During the afternoon session, University of St. Thomas theology professor Catherine Cory explained the importance of Christ’s promise that his light will conquer darkness, as described in the Gospel of St. John, and as highlighted by the Church during the Advent season.

The first chapter of St. John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the light “in the beginning,” through his earthly life and beyond.

“The darkness cannot grasp it,” Cory said of the light of Christ described in that chapter. “It [the darkness] is done. It’s not that it’s just in the past, but it is done.”

The key to being a light to others lies in faithfulness to Christ, she said.

She connected the themes of darkness and light to the morning session, noting that people face darkness in their lives in many ways besides the clergy sex abuse scandals, even within their own families. She shared her story of finding refuge in the Church during difficult times. Since people often hide their troubles, others can make a big difference with just small acts of kindness, she added.

“This is the durable hope, that we have the Church,” Cory said. “We are a broken Church. We are a wounded Church because we’re all human beings who make up this Church. But we are a Church of healing and hope, too, in the things that we do and say for one another.”

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