On Nov. 2, the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) held its final plenary session of the calendar year at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse. The DPC is composed of representatives – who may be laypeople, priests or religious – from each parish in the diocese and representatives from diocesan offices and ministries. DPC sessions, which occur four times per year, offer an opportunity for council members to discuss and share information on key concerns and programs. The meetings also allow the council, according to the diocesan website, “to assist Bishop Cunningham in his pastoral care for the entire diocese” by providing advice and support.
The recent session included discussions on catechetical training, the pastoral care area process, the McDevitt Grant application process and events regarding the Year of Faith.
On the topic of faith formation, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham and Cathy Cornue, diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation, discussed the emphasis to have all catechists’ certified through the diocese catechetical certification process. Ideally, the bishop would like to see priests, RCIA team members and Catholic school teachers certified in the catechetical program as well.
“The training will give our laypeople tools for the future and help transition faith to the new generation,” stated Bishop Cunningham.
The catechetical certification is comprised of three courses for a total of 30 classroom training hours. Online certification is also available. “We want to have our catechists certified, not due to lack of knowledge, but to help them successfully reach out to others in faith,” explained Cornue.
On the issue of pastoral care and parish reconfiguration, Brother Ed Falsey, OFM Conv., and Msgr. Jim Lang explained that efforts are presently underway to better unite “cluster” or linked parishes in creating cohesive parish processes. Facilitators for each region, selected by the diocese, are organizing planning meetings with parishes to discuss the needs of the clusters and the best ways to move forward.
“If we look back, the word ‘cluster’ wasn’t even a part of our previous parish language, but things are changing; parish life is changing,” stated Msgr. Lang.
To assist in planning and to keep the meetings structured and focused, Brother Ed distributed copies of a pastoral handbook that each planning committee will utilize.
“We want the parishes to share information with each other and understand and share in the decision-making and problem solving. This is why our theme for these meetings is ‘invite to engage,’” stated Brother Ed. “We know that there will be people who will want to run ahead with the process and start making decisions immediately and there will be others who want to ignore the process and still others who will lag behind. The role of the facilitator will be to keep the group on task.”
Following the pastoral care presentation, the floor was opened for questions and several hands went up.
“I thought this was all happening in January,” stated Mary LaMacchia from Pope John XXIII Church in Liverpool. “What is the timing on this?”
Linda Crowley of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission of Cincinnatus told the council there was confusion on the issue of facilitators in her region. “We don’t even know who our facilitator is or when our meeting has been scheduled. We need to communicate better,” she said.
Msgr. Lang explained to Crowley and the other attendees that there were a few problems including the resignation of a facilitator. “We should be underway with planning meetings by Feb. 1,” explained Brother Ed.
Andrea Marshall, assistant director of stewardship and development, presented to attendees on the McDevitt Grant program. The grant program was made possible through a significant bequest from Robert and Catherine McDevitt, late Catholic parishioners from the Southern Tier, which was specific in how the funds were to be used. McDevitt Grants are used to support evangelization and food pantry programs in diocesan parishes; Marshall provided comprehensive tips on the best way to fill out the application.
“We don’t need a lot of fluff,” explained Marshall. “Just explain what you need, how you plan to use the funding and don’t go overboard with details.” Marshall stated to parishes that they should make the efforts to apply for the grants since “the money is there.”
Following Marshall’s presentation, Danielle Cummings, assistant chancellor and director of communications for the Diocese of Syracuse, spoke to the group regarding the success of the Year of Faith campaign and challenged attendees to find ways to “rekindle the fire and keep the excitement going” through the new year. Cummings discussed a special Year of Faith Mass that will be celebrated Nov. 24 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. “We are not asking people to attend, we are inviting them. This is a celebration, a time to be excited and come together to praise God and worship him.”
The plenary session ended with a question-and-answer session with Bishop Cunningham. Meeting attendees submitted anonymous questions on cards. The bishop stood before the group discussing a variety of topics, such as the reasoning behind second collections, concerns on how to keep young people in the faith and concern for the clusters.
Bishop Cunningham answered each question thoughtfully and looked out over the crowd. “We are always open to listening. Can we always do what you want? No, but we strive to develop the best process for the situation and are always open to listen and discuss ideas,” he said.
CORRECTION: A story on the Sept. 21 meeting of the DPC, published in the Oct. 11 issue of the Sun, incorrectly cited a figure in a statement attributed to Msgr. Jim Lang. He said there will be about 80 priests between the ages of 26 and 75 in the diocese in 2020, not between the ages of 28 and 75. The Sun regrets the error.