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Envisioning team shapes plan

From April through September, 11 people met seven days with Archbishop George J. Lucas, prayerfully studying and discussing comments gathered in eight listening sessions across the archdiocese to help fashion a pastoral vision and priority plan.

It was lively, focused, intense, fatiguing, satisfying and prayerful, several participants said.

"I always was tired at the end of the day," said Father Jeffrey Lorig, pastor of St. Ludger Parish in Creighton and St. Ignatius Parish in Brunswick. "And I always was happy at the end of the day. It wasn’t like we were doing hard labor. But it was serious discussion."

"The Holy Spirit was definitely part of the group."

The meetings were facilitated by a representative of the Christian Leadership Institute of Wayne, Pa., which helped archdiocesan officials gather and organize information through the listening sessions held in the archdiocese in February and March.

Meeting in the chancery in Omaha, the envisioning team generally began its sessions at 9 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.

In addition to Father Lorig, the group included Father Michael Eckley, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Omaha, and archdiocesan employees Shannan Brommer, director of the Office of Stewardship and Development; Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, manager of the Latino Ministry Office; Deacon Steve Luna, director of Pastoral Planning; and Rocio Hernandez de Adame, Hispanic ministry coordinator at St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus and recently named assistant coordinator for Hispanic marriage preparation with the archdiocese’s Center for Family Life Formation.

The team also included Mary Hazen of St. Bernard Parish in Omaha; Jessi Kary, an apostolic oblate with the Pro Sanctity Movement near Elkhorn; Dr. M.J. Kersenbrock of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill; and Ann Schumacher of St. Leo the Great Parish and Sandra Stovall of St. Benedict the Moor and Holy Name parishes, all in Omaha.

"The Holy Spirit was guiding this whole thing," Deacon Luna said of the process, from listening sessions to the envisioning team. "It was guided by prayer, listening and learning."

Archbishop Lucas agreed.

"I think we had a good process to learn how the Holy Spirit is leading us to live and preach the Gospel in our current circumstances," he said. "I’m really grateful, speaking as a member of the envisioning team. We put together a group that sort of mirrors the face of the archdiocese. They were really dedicated to this. I think they felt it was a privilege, but they also invested a lot in it."

Living out the pastoral vision will take at least three to five years, with teams from the archdiocese first assessing what currently is happening in key areas of the vision statement, "One church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy."

The archdiocese also will study, propose and help implement programs or efforts that have shown promise in parishes, schools and ministries in parts of the archdiocese or outside the archdiocese, Archbishop Lucas said.

A menu of options and collaborative efforts might be offered for any of the three priorities, but people should focus more on personal engagement than programs, he said.

Areas of discipleship and evangelization that might be strengthened in the archdiocese include baptism, confirmation preparation and the beginning of marriage, the archbishop said.

"We have these great moments of invitation and celebration and we’re not always taking advantage of how they could be more fruitful in the lives of the people who are participating, and in the life of the church as a result," he said.

Father Eckley said the theme of mercy in particular resonated with him – both corporal and spiritual works. The Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis has been a great gift to the church, and to him personally, Father Eckley said.

The key is connecting with people, walking with and listening to them, meeting their spiritual and physical needs, Father Eckley said. "We have a lot of different ministries reaching out to people. We want to invite more parishioners out to those ministries," he said.

Those encounters, in turn, will nurture unity, or a community of respect and appreciation that cannot simply be "built," Father Eckley said.

"It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit given to people who love each other," he said.

Father Lorig said he was particularly touched by the call to evangelization.

Programs inviting people to better understand and share the faith likely will be part of the effort, but they shouldn’t be the focus, Father Lorig said.

"It’s a process, how you help people grow in their maturity of the faith," he said, quoting Ephesians 4:12: "‘to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.’"

Envisioning team member Hernandez de Adame said she appreciates Archbishop Lucas’ willingness to hear everyone’s opinions and suggestions. And the vision statement taken as a whole sums up what the envisioning team is trying to express, she said.

"For me, it was a great experience," she said.

Team member Stovall said the idea of equipping people to be disciples resonated with her. Providing people with the tools to "explain and share our faith" is important, she said.

The Holy Spirit will continue to guide the effort, Stovall said.

"This was some work," she said. "And it’s just beginning."

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From the Popes

"The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

"What moves me even more strongly to proclaim the urgency of missionary evangelization is the fact that it is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world, a world which has experienced marvelous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself."
St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio.

"Grant that we may be one flock and one shepherd. Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be servants of unity."
Pope Benedict XVI, homily, inauguration Mass as pope, April 24, 2005.

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