Parish missions a time of community-building, revitalization

| Bridget Ryder | January 25, 2018 | 0 Comments

St. Patrick in Inver Grove Heights is gearing up for Lent with a parish mission Feb. 5-7 starting at 5:30 each evening.

Jon Leonetti, a nationally recognized speaker, radio host and author, will lead “Surge of the Heart,” giving participants a chance to reflect on who God is, their relationship with him and how he has equipped them to serve.

Jon Leonetti

“It’s about … [taking] some time to listen and reflect, and we’re providing that opportunity,” said Teresa Neuman, director of faith formation at St. Patrick. “A parish mission is a nice way, a social way, to do that. It’s an evangelization tool on many levels.”

Many parishes throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis host parish missions either annually or every several years. It’s a practice with deep roots that continues to enrich the Church today, said Father Jim Livingston, pastor of St. Paul in Ham Lake.

“It’s, first, a preaching event,” Father Livingston said. “The parish gets a chance to experience the word of God more deeply. Because of the preaching, worship and prayer service, it becomes a time of enthusiasm for the parish.”

His parish hosts an annual Lenten mission. This year’s mission is 7 p.m. Feb. 25-27.

Parish missions typically follow a simple structure, Neuman explained. For three to four consecutive evenings, the parish sets aside other activities to direct attention to a guest speaker with a special message, followed by time for prayer and reflection. Confession might be offered, too. Usually, the evening includes fellowship and hospitality with simple snacks. Child care or a parallel program for children might also be offered. They’re open to parishioners and non-parishioners alike, and the message of the mission is carefully chosen to reach a wide audience. The preaching, prayer and fellowship give attendees an opportunity to deepen their faith and build community.

Neuman has seen parish missions bear fruit. Often, new volunteers emerge, and active parishioners offer to take on new positions and responsibilities. She will also hear from parishioners about how the speaker’s message resonated with them.

Judy Eiden, 75, a parishioner of St. Patrick for 50 years, has participated in many parish missions. She shares Neuman’s observation that as a result of missions, there’s been a greater sense of community among parishioners.

“It opens up the opportunity to see the whole community in a new way,” Eiden explained. “If it’s advertised well, we’ll get an influx of people who aren’t regular attendees or who are looking to connect with the church.

“For me, it’s a renewal experience,” she continued. “I’m not alone on the journey, and you hear the same things in a different way.”

That has been the purpose of missions going back centuries. Father Livingston compares it to St. Francis of Assisi and his first friars during the 1200s.

“I think of the missionary orders who simply came into town and preached the Gospel,” he said, adding that their message revitalized the faith of those communities.

About 500 years later, St. Alphonsus Liguori found Italy in need of renewal once again.

“In 1732, Alphonsus went into the country and realized that the people weren’t practicing their faith, so he organized a group of men to preach in these areas,” said Father Patrick Keys, a Redemptorist priest at St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center.

St. Alphonsus’ preachers spent prolonged periods in the neglected countryside teaching, preaching and bringing Catholics back to the sacraments. To continue this work, St. Alphonsus founded the Redemptorist order, whose priests continue to preach parish missions today.

Shortly after the Redemptorists’ arrival in North America in 1832, the bishop of Cleveland asked them to do mission work among German immigrants. Evidence remains of parish missions of old, perhaps preached by Redemptorists or others. Father Livingston points to the crosses engraved with the date of the missionary’s visit that can still be found in choir lofts of some old churches.

Since then, the practice of parish missions has evolved into the more commonly used shortened form of three to four days of preaching and reflection. The time serves as an in-house retreat for parishioners.

More and more, too, lay people, like Leonetti, lead the missions. Nevertheless, the Redemptorists still do longer missions in immigrant communities that give them time not only to preach, but also to visit parishioners in their homes to address specific needs, and, hopefully, reach people who might not be practicing their baptismal faith, or who have no faith at all. Redemptorists are in the midst of a monthlong mission at Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Minneapolis.

“We hope to reach people who need to hear the Gospel,” Father Keys said.

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