Making a Difference

Mar. 31 – April 6
VOL 124 NO. 12
Making a Difference
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Parishes and communities throughout the diocese are benefiting from the work and dedication of various groups of Catholic laity who are simultaneously growing in faith and spirituality.

One such group is the revival prayer group that meets at Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton. It’s been in existence for six years, and it was developed to enhance the parishioners’ faith. The group was started by Father Stephen Wirkes at St. Mary of the Star Church in Mexico. The meetings were held there for five years before they moved to Immaculate Conception Church.

At the two-hour prayer meeting, the participants pray, sing, pray in tongues and give testimonies. Sometimes live music is included at the meeting.

Dominick and Susan Chirello have attended the prayer meetings since they began. They are two of the seven prayer-team members of the group.

Dominick feels blessed to have the opportunity to attend the prayer meetings. “It’s an avenue for spirituality that you don’t get when you go to Mass,” explained Dominick. “I feel more of a connection to my spirituality.” Dominick enjoys participating in the worship. “It makes me feel good,” he said. “It touches my heart when I see people respond. People are more open.” Dominick recalled some unusual happenings that have taken place in the church as the prayer group was giving praise and thanks to God. He explained how a “glory cloud” suddenly appeared over the altar. He said it looked like a haze. Feeling touched, those at the meeting knelt down and prayed. There have also been times when the prayer members have smelled fragrances such as roses and chocolate brownies as they were worshiping. Some say that they smelled the fragrances of heaven. “You’re never the same after this experience,” Dominick said. “It’s very moving and it’s a good feeling.”

Susan feels that her spirituality and faith in God have been renewed. “Once you allow Jesus to come into your heart, you’re never the same,” said Susan. “You hunger for the Lord to be a part of your life. Dominick and I can’t wait to get to the prayer meeting every week to be in the presence of the Lord.”

At St. Agatha’s Church in Canastota, a group of 250 parishioners participate in the Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The undertaking began in the Spring of 2001, when the crying room of the church was converted into a chapel. The Blessed Sacrament was then placed inside the chapel and it was opened to the public. The group has been organized so that there is always one member in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for each of the 24 hours of the day. “People have been remarkably faithful,” said Michael Seagriff, coordinator of the undertaking.

Seagriff enjoys spending an hour each week in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament with his wife Lonnie. “It’s been a great blessing to us and to our marriage,” remarked Seagriff. “It allows us to spend time together with the Lord. It’s a privilege to be in the presence of Jesus Christ. The gift of the Eucharist is the underused gift. We need to worship and adore Him.”

Lonnie also enjoys spending the hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. “That’s a special and beautiful time,” said Lonnie. “Many of our prayers have been answered.”

Ed De Castro is a parishioner of St. Agatha’s Parish and is also a member of the group. He devotes one hour weekly to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in addition to devoting one hour weekly at St. Joseph’s Church in Oneida. Because of his devotion, he feels more aware of the presence of God on a daily basis. “I believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist,” said De Castro. “I’m sitting there with Jesus. It’s very calming.” De Castro was inspired by a story he read about Bishop Fulton Sheen. He learned that Bishop Sheen spent one hour each day in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for over 60 years until he died. “Jesus is present in that chapel,” said De Castro. “I feel that he is sitting right there with me. I would strongly encourage all Catholics to consider doing it.”

Ruth Giammichele serves as the facilitator for the JustFaith group at St. James Parish in Johnson City. Giammichele explained that the JustFaith program doesn’t require a priest — laity run it. “It’s an excellent program,” said Giammichele. “I get excited about it because there’s a real spiritual dimension to it.”

JustFaith is an intense formation program designed to deepen understanding and commitment to social ministry. This year almost 300 parishes and churches across the country are participating in the program. The program was developed by Jack Jezreel, former director of social concerns for the Diocese of Louisville who is now working full time in the JustFaith program. When he served as director of social concerns, he wondered why he couldn’t elicit more energy from parishioners on social justice issues. After researching the issue, he confirmed the fact that parishioners lacked formation. He noticed, however, that the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults was working.

Consequently, Jezreel developed a nine-month intensive program, using a curriculum guide, videos and books similar to RCIA, focusing on social action and social justice.

The JustFaith program has been in operation for three years at St. James Church in Johnson City. It was initiated three years ago after Father Thomas Ryan asked Giammichele to attend a presentation at Blessed Sacrament Church in Johnson City in which Jezreel spoke about the program. Father Ryan wanted to educate his parishioners about social action and social justice. After Giammichele returned from the presentation, a decision was made to incorporate the program into the faith formation curriculum at St. James. Topics such as consumerism, non-violence, simple lifestyles, sweatshops, root causes of poverty and effects of the global economy are explored in the program.

Jack Lindley, a lifelong parishioner of St. James, is a member of the JustFaith group of 15 people who meet for two and one half hours weekly. Lindley joined the group because he wanted to learn more about social justice. His participation in the group has led him to realize how important each person is. “I appreciate the fact that we are a community of faith,” said Lindley. “It’s becoming more apparent to me that my community is affected by events that are happening around the world.”

Kay Perkins, a parishioner of St. James for 16 years, joined the group because she felt she needed to expand her knowledge of Christianity. “I’ve become more Christian-like,” stated Perkins. “I’ve done more for the poor.” A nurse by occupation, she visited Haiti on a medical mission with Dr. James Dellaville last year. Perkins used her nursing skills to treat patients in an orphanage, a prenatal clinic and a wound clinic.

The six members of the JustFaith group at St. Mary of Mount Carmel and Blessed Sacrament Churches in Utica have been increasing their awareness of poverty and violence issues. The program has been in operation for a year. The group participates in “border crossing experiences” which include visits to nursing homes and the Rescue Mission, where they prepare and serve food.

St. Mary of Mount Carmel parishioner Mary Rose Leone joined the group because she wanted to do something to strengthen her faith. Participating in the group has made her more aware of what is going on in the world. “I’m blessed with having food to eat every day and clothes on my back,” remarked Leone. Another member, Margo Learnerd said the course has changed the way she perceives things. “Studying the books has helped me understand why people are poor,” said Learnerd.

Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Endicott has had the JustFaith program in place for four years. The decision to include the program in the faith formation curriculum was based on a presentation Jezreel gave four years ago at the church. Since then, 80 parishioners have completed the program.

Joe Coudriet, social justice minister at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, said the program has broadened his understanding of the social issues that need to be addressed in the world. He was instrumental in bringing the program to the parish, and he facilitated it the first two years of operation. Deacon Tom Harley, director of religious education, has facilitated the past two years. “The program has had a dramatic impact on my homilies,” remarked Harley. “It opened my eyes to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.”

The Justice Walking program at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church developed as an offshoot of the JustFaith program. Forty students meet twice monthly. The first time they meet in a classroom setting, where they talk about things in the community, and the second time they participate in community outreach work. The youth have assisted Meals on Wheels, developmentally disabled people, nursing home patients, Special Olympics participants and the Boy’s and Girl’s Club.

Karen Johns, a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, is a parent volunteer for the group. She spoke fondly of the time that she spent with the youth when they helped Special Olympic participants prepare for competition. “It changed my outlook on how teenagers are today,” said Johns. “I have joy in my heart every time I look at them. This is a fabulous program for our children because it enables them to see what obstacles other people have to overcome.”

At St. Augustine’s Church in Baldwinsville, a group called Beyond JustFaith developed as an offshoot of the JustFaith group. Comprised of nine parishioners who have completed the JustFaith program, they meet every two weeks. Father John Rose incorporated the Beyond JustFaith program into the faith formation curriculum two years ago. “I’m glad he did,” said Rich Sikorski, facilitator of the group. “There are so many social justice issues — it’s made us aware of issues like jail ministry and sweatshops. It’s opened my eyes to the way people are suffering. It makes me ask myself what can I do for this person.”

Joan Arnold, a parishioner of St. Augustine Parish for 15 years, joined the group, and it has had a profound effect on her. “It’s made me realize that my personal mission here on earth is to serve and to do as much good as I can,” Arnold said. She now volunteers at Francis House. Her participation in the group has also influenced the way she copes with her autistic grandson. “It’s made me very serene and accepting of the situation and of people who have disabilities in general.”

St. Augustine’s parishioner Pat Bullard is a member of the Beyond JustFaith group, and she enjoys helping out with jail ministry. As a result of her increased awareness of the injustices in the world, she now acts as a person-to- person advocate for a developmentally disabled young woman. “It’s increased my awareness and now I speak out more for justice,” said Bullard.

Jack Jezreel will be presenting an introductory JustFaith workshop at St. Augustine’s Church on April 16. For more information, contact Joan Arnold at (315) 638-4095 or Carol Miller at (315) 638-8909.

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