By Pat Shea
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC), composed of pastoral council and ministry representatives from across the diocese, gathered at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse Nov. 21 for its final meeting of 2015.
The meeting began with opening prayer with music performed by Larry Hagan.
Father Christopher Seibt, parochial vicar of St. Rose of Lima Church in North Syracuse, presented a comprehensive explanation on the meaning of and the expectations for the Year of Mercy.
Father Seibt explained to attendees that the Year of Mercy “goes deeper than just doing nice things for people.”
“We cannot talk about Mercy this year without talking about sin. Mercy presumes sin…it offers salvation [to the sinner],” stated Father Seibt. “We pray for mercy. It is what we believe in… mercy is what love looks like when it sees sin. It is a force that reawakens us to look toward the future with hope for salvation.”
During his presentation, Father Seibt outlined what the pope is asking Catholics to do during this year, what the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are, and what it means to encounter and extend mercy to others. The most important aspect of the Year of Mercy to remember, Father Seibt stated, is to make the process a reachable goal and a fruitful celebration for all Catholics.
Danielle Cummings, Chancellor and Director of Communications, offered attendees an update on strategic planning for the diocese. The 2015-2016 Strategic Plan was originally presented to attendees at the September DPC meeting by John Barsanti, Chief Operating Officer of the diocese.
Cummings gave an overview of the progress diocesan ministries have been making addressing the overall goal of evangelization and change within the diocese. “Evangelization is not putting people into pews,” stated Cummings. “It means bringing the good news of Jesus into every human situation. Everything we do should be directly connected to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Encouraging parishes to “think strategically,” Cummings urged attendees to continually look for ways to reduce overlap in regards to services. “We need to eliminate silos and each be thinking, ‘How can I work differently? How can I assist another ministry?’ It’s not rocket science, it just makes good sense,” stated Cummings.
Following Cumming’s presentation, Kelley Romano, a retired teacher and a volunteer at Liverpool linked parishes St. Joseph the Worker and Immaculate Heart of Mary, shared how she began a parish tutoring program that has helped to evangelize all age groups. The program Romano instituted utilizes the talents of retired teachers who act as volunteer tutors, offering local students basic educational assistance on general topics such as reading, writing, math and English as a second language.
Before beginning the program, Romano recruited tutors and asked permission of the parish pastors. She then utilized an empty classroom to hold the tutoring session and advertised in church bulletins and in local schools, looking for students in the greater Liverpool area. Within a short time the tutoring program was helping 15 students, some as young as first grade and adults as old as 68, not just from Liverpool but from throughout the Syracuse area.
“I initially expected this program to cater to students within our parish but that’s not what happened,” laughed Romano. “We attracted many interested children and adults from all over the area with a single goal: to better themselves in their studies and in life.”
Romano explained that of the adult students, half were immigrants struggling with learning English. “We would help kids with their homework and tutoring in key areas and helped adults with everything from understanding forms, to getting their GED, to [understanding] how to drive, and preparing to become a U.S. citizen.”
Following Romano’s presentation, Chris Gorman, a member of St. Charles/St Ann’s Parish in Syracuse, shared with attendees how his PCA team helped two different parishes embrace the process of becoming a merged parish.
“Becoming a PCA was a huge opportunity,” explained Gorman. “We were creating a merged parish, not a linked parish, but people were afraid. It wasn’t easy but we were very lucky to be guided through the process by Father Brian Lang.”
Gorman explained one of the first and most successful tasks the PCA team planned was inviting clergy, staff and ministry leaders to a relaxed dinner, giving them a chance to get to know one another. During the dinner, Gorman gave a presentation with suggestions on ways the parish could welcome new members by using strategies, events and examples from other local churches. “Other faiths are drawing new [followers] and engaging them,” explained Gorman. “We need to do the same; we can’t afford not to.”
Looking toward the future, Gorman shared with the DPC that plans are underway for the new parish to invite speakers and host a Holy Thursday Visitation.
The DPC meeting concluded with a Q-and-A with Bishop Robert J. Cunningham. The questions, which were submitted anonymously by attendees, spanned several topics including the Year of Mercy, the recent Synod on the Family, concern for refugees, and in light of the need of priests throughout the diocese, the future of vocations.
“We are always hearing about the need for more priests, but when is the last time you celebrated a vocation or a move into consecrated life from your parish?” Bishop Cunningham asked attendees. “Our future priests should come from our own parishes. We need to do more to encourage families to speak to their children about vocations and consecrated life. If we don’t, [an increase in priests and religious] won’t happen.”
The next DPC meeting is scheduled for March.