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Archbishop expresses optimism about future

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice


Archbishop Curtiss looks at the 2004 Archdiocesan Synod Report as he addresses delegates at the 2005 Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly April 8 at St. Pius X Parish Center in Omaha.
Delegates (from left) Rob Wellendorf of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, Marsha Dahlseid of St. Andrew Parish in Bloomfield and Amy Tejral of St. Boniface Parish in Menominee participate in table discussion at the APC assembly.
Photos by Lisa Schulte

Delegates of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council met in Omaha last weekend for the 17th annual APC Assembly. More than 150 people attended the April 8-9 event at St. Pius X Church and Parish Center.

The theme for the assembly was "A Celebration of Worship into Service: Affirming Our Gifts as Blessings."

The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is the principal consultative body to Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss on pastoral matters of the church in Northeast Nebraska. Comprised of laity, religious and clergy, its members include a representative from each parish, and representatives from the women and men religious communities, urban and rural diaconate community, archdiocesan agencies and Priests Council.

Archbishop Curtiss was the featured speaker Friday evening, giving his state of the archdiocese address.

"The state of the archdiocese is strong and healthy," the archbishop told the assembly.

He went on to praise last summer's Archdiocesan Synod, commenting on the six proposals approved for action.

In reference to the synod proposal on leadership and collaborative ministry in the archdiocese, Archbishop Curtiss said, "It will be important for the clergy and laity to work together to make this happen."

For ongoing strategic planning concerning the archdiocese, "collaboration among parishes" will be needed in order to make effective use of resources and manpower, he said.

In response to the proposal on liturgy and prayer life, Archbishop Curtiss said, "We have to determine how to help all those in our parishes to understand the essential role of the Eucharist in our worship life."

He said the proposal on vocations calls to every baptized person to be part of the work of vocations, with the focus on "getting our young people to respond to the call to priesthood and consecrated life."

Another important synod proposal touched on ministry to aging members of the church.

"We must look at how we can be more attentive in our parishes and institutions to the spiritual and physical needs of the growing number of our aging members," Archbishop Curtiss told the APC delegates.

He said the proposal on faith formation challenges the archdiocese and parishes to help the people of God have a better understanding of their faith.

As for the sixth proposal on reaching out to all people so they are included in the mission of the church, Archbishop Curtiss said it is important to recognize the human dignity of all people because they are made in the image of God.

"Our parishes and institutions must be inclusive faith communities," he said, "whose mission is to reach out and accept people different from ourselves."

Synod reflections

Much of the assembly focused on responses to the synod proposals discussed by the archbishop. Members of archdiocesan agencies, offices, committees and parishes reflected on the proposals of the synod and gave examples of how the archbishop's directives are being implemented.

Karen Tibbs-Nnawulezi, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries, and Sister Angela Erevia, MCDP, director of the Hispanic Ministry Office, addressed the issue of outreach to people and inclusion in the mission of the church.

Both said racism exists in the archdiocese and encouraged people to look at their hearts and see how they are motivated.

In order to have inclusion in the church of Northeast Nebraska, parishes and institutions must take action in reaching out to others and accepting people who are different from themselves, Tibbs-Nnawulezi said.

To help in the process, the offices have developed a questionnaire that could be used by pastoral councils in regards to outreach and inclusion. They are also preparing a list of resources – speakers and presenters – that can be used by parishes.

Faith formation and sharing faith

At the Archdiocesan Synod, Archbishop Curtiss stated that adult faith formation must be a priority in the archdiocese and that there be practical and helpful structures put into place that will impact the largest number of adult Catholics in the archdiocese.

Carolyn Meeks, assistant director of the Office of Religious Formation, said the archdiocese already has in place several faith formation programs that are available to people, including the Omaha Biblical School, CAFFE (Catholic Adult Faith Formation and Enrichment), marriage preparation programs, baptism programs, education in sexuality and the Juan Diego Pastoral Institute. Evaluation of these programs is currently under way.

Vocations

Father Ralph O'Donnell, director of the Vocation Office, shared information about how the archdiocese is helping all baptized Catholics understand their call to holiness and how to live that call in individual vocations.

The challenge from the synod was that all parishes take responsibility for promoting all vocations – single, married, priestly and religious. Certain agencies of the archdiocese were called to continue to focus on specific vocations.

The Vocations Office worked on a strategic plan for a year that included 24 representatives of all vocations who reviewed the current programs in the archdiocese. The office also will continue to collaborate with other archdiocesan agencies to utilize the resources that already exist.

Father O'Donnell and Sister Jackie Thorn, OSM, director of the Consecrated Life Office, recently met with archdiocesan youth ministers and campus ministers to discuss a Youth Rally in 2006 on living the call to holiness that would cover all vocations. Both will continue to visit archdiocesan junior high and high schools to talk about vocation discernment.

There is also Camp Saint Francis, a summer camp at Mount Michael Abbey in Elkhorn, for fifth- through eighth-grade boys.

Leadership and collaborative ministry

Father Greg Baxter, chancellor, addressed what the archdiocese is doing to ensure maximum pastoral care for the Catholic people of Northeast Nebraska and how collaborative planning is taking place.

He said the archdiocese has faced some challenges in this area because of limited pastoral resources, but said work is being done to allocate the pastoral resources and to share them throughout the archdiocese.

The fundamental idea that came out of the synod was to create a strategic planning commission that will come together to do planning for the parishes of the archdiocese, he said. That commission is in the process of being formed and will include the 12 deans of the archdiocese as well as 12 APC volunteers. They will meet May 10 to deliberate and look at what can be done to ensure maximum pastoral care. They will look at what has already been done, the data that has already been collected from other archdiocesan studies to analyze the formation of deaneries and parish alignment.

"This is a process. There is no predetermined outcome," Father Baxter said. "We have lots of data that we can look at, but it is truly the sense that the recommendations from the commission will go to either the APC Executive Committee or the Priests Council for them to give input back to the commission and to then make presentations to Archbishop Curtiss."

Ministry to aging members

In addressing the synod directives on ministering to the aging members of the archdiocese, Mary Eileen Andreasen, coordinator for aging ministry in the archdiocese, praised the work of many elder ministry groups already in existence in Northeast Nebraska.

In Omaha, SAM (Senior Adult Ministers) groups, consisting of both paid professionals and non-professional volunteers, meet regularly in Omaha. In the rural communities, there already are three strong groups, whom Andreasen called "The Energizer Bunnies" in the Rural Southeast deanery, "The Kind and Caring Souls" in the Rural North Central and "The Thinkers" in the Rural Southwest. Three more groups will be established before the end of the summer, she said.

"There's a tremendous amount of energy around this," she said. "There are groups that are forming. There are groups that are lively. There are groups that are full of the spirit and very dedicated to elders in the Archdiocese of Omaha."

Liturgy and prayer life

Liturgy is at the heart of the life of the church, Brother William Woeger, FSC, director of the Worship Office, told the APC delegates.

"We are at a moment of cultural challenge with respect to the liturgy," he said. "There are many things in the culture today that are at a direct odd with what is asked of us when we fully and consciously participate in the Eucharist. Everything from entertainment, individualism, consumerism … all of these things are impacting the way we bring ourselves to worship."

Over the last three years, the Worship Office has been working directly with the archbishop's liturgical commission to discuss ways to educate Catholics and to renew their participation in the liturgy. St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum, will extend their outreach in educational programs to the archdiocese, Brother Woeger said. They will expand their training for youth and the musical heritage of the church, and they will form an archdiocesan organ academy beginning in the fall of 2006 and will offer "short courses" later this year. A certification program will also be available through the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.

In addition, the Worship Office will help parishes build on the reflection process of the experience of initiation into the church, as well as distribute information on liturgy and study how different target groups learn.

The office is also looking at ways to collaborate with other archdiocesan agencies. In consideration are participating in closed circuit television education programs; addressing the domestic church and helping families pray at home; assisting in baptismal preparation for children with religious education and formation programs; and publishing bulletin inserts on liturgy.

Parish 'best practices'

Part of the 2005 APC Assembly was dedicated to hearing examples of how parishes are responding to the synod activities. Time also was spent looking at various working models of church and parish life in the archdiocese and discussing how these models might impact the future.

Peggy Leehy, a parishioner at St. Francis Borgia Church in Blair, spoke about her parish's INVITE (Inviting Numerous Volunteers In To Evangelization) program, which was developed as a way to get more parishioners involved, particularly in parish committees. Members of the parish worked with the parish council to apply the synod proposals to their already existing parish committees and invited parishioners to identify their gifts, look at their strengths and see on which committees their gifts would be most useful. So far, the parish's Welcoming Committee has grown from 10 to 35 members.

At St. Leo Parish in Omaha, the parish council met with the parish's APC members, looked at the synod proposals and decided that although the parish had a strong elder ministry, there was a need for a bereavement program, Joe Knezetic told the APC delegates.

Sister Joan Mueller, OSF, provided information on Project Welcome, an outreach program to Sudanese refugees based at Immaculate Conception Parish in Omaha. Founded by Sister Mueller in 2002, the program helps educate, feed, cloth, shelter and catechize the growing number of Sudanese in Omaha.

Following Sister Mueller's presentation, Father Gerald Gonderinger shared his experience as pastor of four rural parishes - St. Mary in West Point, St. Anthony in St. Charles, St. Boniface in Monterey, and Holy Cross in Beemer. He explained how positive the process had been of joining area parishes in order to maximize pastoral resources. The four parishes have one bulletin, alternate Masses and offer a bilingual liturgy.

"People like the ideal that they're a part of a wider community," Father Gonderinger said. "I don't think we need to fear parish consolidation. The Lord's work will get done."

Finally, Dick Stibor, director of Management Information Services for the archdiocese, updated the APC delegates on what has been done in the archdiocese in terms of technology. MIS is now working on a common database for archdiocesan offices. Eventually parishes will be a part of this as well, he said.

Offices now have a system that is an integrated network, is reliable, has data backup and promotes collaboration. It also includes e-mail and protected Internet access. MIS workers have the ability to shadow computers in other offices in order to solve problems without going to the offices.

'A good day'

At the close of the assembly, Archbishop Curtiss said, "I thought this was a very good day in terms of ideas and sharing and input. It makes me feel very good, very optimistic about the future."

APC delegates were then invited to make a written commitment to the archbishop of what they are taking back to their parishes as a result of the assembly. After individually presenting the commitments to Archbishop Curtiss, the delegates received a piece of a puzzle on which the map of the archdiocese was displayed to take home to their parishes.

"Though many, we are one," said Sister Lee Agnes Hodapp, SSSF, assistant director of rural religious formation. "Let that symbol, that piece of the puzzle, remind you and remind your parish that we are not alone. We, together, are the body of Christ."

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