Archbishop George J. Lucas and Jim Jansen, director of Pastoral Services for the Omaha archdiocese, conduct a discussion during last year’s Pastoral Conference. Like last year’s event, this year’s conference, set for Oct. 1, will be livestreamed to parishes throughout the archdiocese. MIKE MAY/STAFF


Catholic faithful encouraged to take part in annual Pastoral Conference

The Catholic Church in the Omaha archdiocese is forging a new reality – and it will affect everyone.

That’s a message to be delivered loud and clear during the archdiocese’s third annual Pastoral Conference, Saturday, Oct. 1.

In something of a “State of the Union” address, Archbishop George J. Lucas will discuss the challenging trends affecting the Church today – declining numbers of priests and practicing Catholics, plus shifting populations – and the measures being planned to help parishes not only remain viable, but flourish.

The conference, set for 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. will be livestreamed from an Omaha location to parishes throughout the archdiocese. Priests have been asked to fill their parish halls with as many parishioners as possible so they can hear about the current reality and the “Journey of Faith: A Pastoral Planning Process to Prepare Us for the Future.”

The planning process, which began late last year, involves grouping parishes into larger “families” of parishes, which will collaborate, along with sharing resources and priests. For the past several months, clergy and lay representatives from all parishes have been meeting to discuss how to implement this plan within their parish families.

“We don’t want, in any way, for the Journey of Faith to be seen as an elite process that involves only a few people,” the archbishop said. “It’s really going to affect the lives of all of us.”

“The aim of the Pastoral Conference is to bring as many people as possible up to speed on where we are at and what we’re proposing for the future,” Archbishop Lucas said.

In addition to presentations by the archbishop and others, time will be allotted for local discussion by attendees meeting at their individual parishes.

The Journey of Faith process aims to support the archdiocese’s pastoral vision of “One Church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy,” along with the “big goal” announced two years ago that all parishes, by 2026, become missional communities reaching out to others to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Journey of Faith is about helping parishes establish the structures and governance models that will help achieve that goal, the archbishop said.

One parish that has been finding success reaching out to others is St. Frances Cabrini in Omaha. During the conference, Father Damian Zuerlein, pastor, and others from the parish will share how a personal invitation can make a difference and change lives.

“There’s nothing like a personal invitation,” he said. “It’s what Jesus did. And, it’s what we all have to do – just take a risk to invite somebody to come join me in my community, that this is a good place.”

The parish’s Alpha program, an 11-week program based around sharing a meal while discussing and reflecting on Jesus’ teachings and the fundamentals of the faith, has been a conduit for reaching people who have not yet encountered Jesus in a personal way.

“The process of gathering people, eating together, reflecting on the core message of Jesus, sharing faith and praying together has transformed a lot of lives,” Father Zuerlein said.

One of those people, Alysia Radicia, will share her story during the Pastoral Conference, he said.

“People like Alysia, who, once they encounter the message, once they have their own relationship with Jesus, we can see in their lives they’re transforming. That’s what you’re offering to your neighbors.”

“It’s a return to our roots, and really the early Church, of making disciples, not just Church members,” he said.

“I don’t think we reflect often enough on the fact that we live in what people are calling a post-Christian world,” Father Zuerlein said. “The easy Christianity of my youth does not exist anymore. … We have to create that culture again.”

And that’s what the archdiocese’s vision, the goal to become missional communities and the Journey of Faith all aim to address, Archbishop Lucas said.

“We’ll continue to shrink if we don’t do anything differently,” he said. “There’s nothing to indicate that this will turn around by itself.”

So, it’s important for parishioners to understand what is happening and to support the Journey of Faith planning process by attending the Pastoral Conference, he said.

“My hope is that the more people understanding it will then pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for the transformation of our own hearts, so that we can be listening to what the Lord has planned for us and be generous in responding to his invitation.”

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