Parish ambassadors are key part of synod preparation

| November 6, 2019 | 0 Comments

Kim Kishel-Geiger of St. MIchael in Farmington and James O’Laughlin of Pax Christi in Eden Prairie talk with others at their table at an Oct. 21 parish ambassador training session at Our Lady of Grace in Edina.

James O’Laughlin of Pax Christi in Eden Prairie left an Oct. 21 training session as a parish ambassador for the Archdiocesan Synod ready to share with and listen to his fellow parishioners.

“I had a lot of questions going in,” he said. “It was good to gain a better understanding of what Archbishop (Bernard) Hebda is trying to do.”

O’Laughlin was joined by about 300 others at Our Lady of Grace in Edina for the last of 10 parish ambassador training sessions that were held this fall across the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

More than 1,200 people — with representatives from 148 of the archdiocese’s parishes — are now trained as ambassadors to answer questions and encourage involvement in preparations for the 2021 Synod, which will address pastoral needs of the archdiocese.

Anyone with a question or suggestions about the synod can discuss it with an ambassador in their parish, in addition to their pastor and archdiocesan officials involved in the process, said Father Joseph Bambeneck, co-director of the synod executive committee and a leader of the ambassador training sessions.

“It’s how the Church works in general,” Father Bambeneck said. “There’s one priest but there’s thousands of people. We’re all called to be missionaries to the world.”

The training event in Edina made clear to O’Laughlin that the first order of business is praying for the synod and listening to and inviting people to participate in prayer and listening sessions that are being held in sites across the archdiocese.

It’s also clear that Archbishop Hebda wants to hear from everyone about pastoral successes and challenges in the archdiocese — practicing Catholics, those who might have fallen away and those who are intrigued by the faith, O’Laughlin said.

“There are no preconceived answers before we actually hear what people have to say,” he said.

Six prayer and listening sessions have been held thus far. Archbishop Hebda plans to be at every session. Upcoming gatherings include 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 7 at St. Wenceslaus, 15 Main St. E. in New Prague; 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 15 at All Saints, 19795 Holyoke Ave. in Lakeville and a bilingual session in English and Vietnamese from 1 to 4 p.m. at St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien, 2627 Queen Ave. N. in Minneapolis.

Another 10 sessions will be held from January through March next year. Eleven other prayer and listening events are targeting specific groups, such as youth, college students, Catholic school principals, clergy and seniors at retirement and assisted living facilities.

Parish ambassadors are to make their presence known through parish bulletin and pulpit announcements, to encourage friends and fellow parishioners directly and place posters and other synod material in parishes and schools. They also are to help their parishes prepare to hold small group meetings about the synod next fall.

The extended time and attention to encouraging prayer, gathering comments and hearing from people demonstrates Archbishop Hebda’s desire to give people time to think about the archdiocese’s pastoral needs and direction, O’Laughlin said.

The parish ambassadors already are busy, including Joseph Odell at St. Peter in North St. Paul, who is the liaison to the pastoral council for that parish’s 20-member ambassador team.

The team has addressed the congregation after Masses, put up synod posters and handed out prayer cards, and it is reaching out to all groups in the parish, including people in the Knights of Columbus, the Holy Family Guild and a community from West Africa, Odell said.

Odell said he attended a prayer and listening session Oct. 26 at St. Peter in Forest Lake.

“It was a little surprising to hear how open the archbishop is to hearing from everybody,” Odell said. “He really wants to hear from everybody.”

Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa Kathleen Hayes at Divine Mercy in Faribault is reaching out to parishioners as part of that parish’s ambassador team. A pastoral care assistant at the parish, Sister Kathleen said she is helping not only as a staff member, but as a parishioner.

“I think it’s so wonderful that the archbishop is taking the time and effort to pull people together, to hear what they have to say is going well and not going well, and their vision for the archdiocese in the next five to 10 years,” Sister Kathleen said.

As part of a parish ambassador team of about a dozen people, she volunteered in the kitchen for the hospitality effort at Divine Mercy when a prayer and listening session was held there Oct. 29.

About 250 people attended, including a dozen students from Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, who along with the rest of the school’s students received extra credit in religion courses for answering questions in writing that were given to synod organizers, Sister Kathleen said.

Several of the students spoke, she said, encouraging the archdiocese to increase opportunities for youth and adults to learn more about the faith and evangelize.

Efforts also were made to invite people from the Latino community and provide materials in Spanish, and to share synod prayer petitions and cards with people in nursing homes and assisted living centers, Sister Kathleen said.

With still more prayer and listening sessions, small group parish meetings next fall and other ways to involve people, “this is not the end,” Sister Kathleen said. “This is just the beginning.”

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