Spring Formation Day to spotlight evangelization, community

| Melenie Soucheray | May 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

Two years ago, Father Joseph Williams directed all staff members at St. Stephen in Minneapolis to stop what they were doing for a time in the summer and during Lent. In the spirit of the Gospel of St. Matthew in which Jesus commissions his apostles to go out and make disciples, St. Stephen staff members were to leave their desks and go to the streets.

Viviana Sotro

The pastor encouraged them to chat with people in parks, in shops and on sidewalks. By getting to know their neighbors and sharing their own stories, parish leaders could be empathetic and explain how their relationship with Jesus has helped them in their daily lives. This form of evangelization was new to Viviana Sotro, and it was scary.

“I wasn’t prepared for that,” said Sotro, 46, the parish’s mission director. “I went out to be obedient to our priest, [and] just going out changed my life.”

With a new objective in her outreach, no longer does she simply answer the phone and set appointments. Fruits of her efforts are evident in the parish.

Families, some broken and others estranged from the Church, have begun attending Mass. They have enrolled their children in Sunday classes to prepare for first Communion and confirmation. Parents have used that same time to build community and their own faith. They have formed “cells” — small groups that encourage faith formation and a relationship with Christ — that have helped families heal. They have also strengthened social and secular networks built on the foundation of parish life.

Sotro will share St. Stephen’s approach to evangelization with other parish leaders in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis May 24 at Spring Formation Day.

At Pax Christi in Eden Prairie, the daylong program “Growing a Church of Unity and Diversity” will include a look at small Christian communities and how they promote individual faith development and ultimately, the growth of the Church.

Featured presenters are author Chris Lowney, chairman of the board of directors for Catholic Health Initiatives and a former Jesuit seminarian; and Dominican Sister Theresa Rickard, president and executive director of RENEW International. They will discuss how evangelization is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Forming disciples

When Father Williams arrived as pastor at St. Stephen 10 years ago, the neighborhood was changing, the parish roster was shrinking and closure was a possibility.

Sotro, a native of Argentina, joined the parish staff six years ago to help provide resources and services to families who walked through their doors.

Then in 2016, with Father Michael White’s and Tom Corcoran’s book “Rebuilt” in hand, Father Williams reorganized the parish operations into four functions that reflect the main responsibilities of a pastor: teaching (catechesis), sanctifying (sacraments), governing (daily business management) and mission, which he added later to handle a variety of functions, including social services and outreach.

“This is a very diverse neighborhood,” Sotro said of the parish, located just south of downtown Minneapolis. “We have many Latinos, many Somalis and English-speaking people, too. Many of the apartment buildings where Latino families were living were bought by companies and then remodeled. Many young singles and couples were moving into those apartments.”

Samantha Hagel, director of mission at St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear Lake, will also join Sister Rickard to discuss her parish’s evangelization activities.

Hagel, 51, joined St. Mary of the Lake’s staff last December and said the new position’s job description is still a work in progress.

In 2016, under Father Ralph Talbot’s leadership, parishioners began exploring how they could be more intentional disciples of Christ. Hagel, who attends the parish with her husband and four children, has been a parishioner for close to 20 years. She was a social worker and has been involved in community engagement efforts.

St. Mary of the Lake is using Be My Witness, the two-part RENEW International model of forming disciples. A 30-year-old ministry based out of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, RENEW encourages individuals and communities to encounter God in their daily lives and thus, help revitalize parish life.

St. Mary of the Lake’s early goal was to engage 100 parishioners, but Hagel increased that target to 203.

“Traditionally, all parishes have outreach ministries. We have 39,” Hagel said, noting that St. Mary of the Lake has 2,080 active households with 6,000 individuals. “They are an indication of who we are as a parish. We are welcoming, we are hospitable. That’s what drives our parishioners to be out there doing all kinds of work. Yet, we also know there is internal work that we should all be doing around developing that personal relationship with Jesus. I see the job of mission as being both internal and external.”

In the first phase of the initiative, parish staff identified the areas of parish life that contribute to nurturing a relationship with Christ. Phase two brought 240 parishioners to weekly meetings of 26 small faith-sharing groups where they read and reflected on selected Gospel passages and shared how the messages resonate in their lives. Hagel said that’s when they began to understand what it means to love Christ and to be comfortable sharing that love story with others.

The parish is continuing phase two while developing the next phase. Participants want to encourage fellow parishioners to use their new-found skills for outreach through evangelization, which is a work in progress, Hagel noted.

For more information about Spring Formation Day, visit ArchSPM.org/archspm_events/formation-day.

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Category: Local News