Conference to focus on renewal of church

Divine renovation.

That’s the theme of a conference, which will include Archbishop George J. Lucas, pastors, parish leaders and members of archdiocesan ministries, aimed at re-energizing the Catholic Church’s mission to evangelize.

The Oct. 2-3 event at St. Mary Church in Norfolk will be led by Father James Mallon, author of the book, "Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission."

The theme aligns well with the archdiocese’s pastoral vision and plan – "One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy" – said Father Jeffrey Lorig, director of pastoral services for the archdiocese.

"It’s an opportunity to begin to think about how we can live our mission differently," Father Lorig said. "We can’t expect different results by doing the same things, or even just trying harder.

"The church exists for non-members, more so than its current members, and if we’ve lost that identity, then we’ve lost our mission," he said.

In his book, Father Mallon, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says that in many places, the Catholic Church has forgotten its "essential missionary calling," and agrees with Pope Francis that the church has become inward looking rather than reaching out to the unchurched, and misses the opportunity to help others encounter Jesus.

Consequently, Father Mallon argues in his book, the church loses members, or loses them to other denominations where they experience a more personal encounter with Christ, meaningful community life, biblical and doctrinal formation that results in "spiritual, personal and community growth," and a missionary commitment that empowers the faithful to go out to share their faith with others.

"There’s a statistic being thrown around that for every one new Catholic we gain, six leave," Father Lorig said. "That alone should wake us up."

The conference broadens what in past years had been the Fall Clergy Conference, and this year will welcome lay parish leaders as well, he said.

"We’re talking about a cultural transformation within the church, and we know we can’t do it without our lay people," he said.

"That’s why we want pastors to invite several key parish leaders who can take what they receive and help their pastors transform their parish cultures," Father Lorig said.

He expects about 80 to 100 priests to attend, plus about 200 lay leaders, for the first day of the conference. The second day will be for priests.

The first day’s topics are: Restoring Our Identity, Culture is More than Programs, and The Difference between Evangelizing and Catechizing.

Between presentations, Father Mallon will be available for questions, "… and pastors and their parish leaders will have time to discuss what they’ve been hearing and begin to dream about a different vision for their parish," Father Lorig said.

The second day, Father Mallon will discuss with priests a model of priesthood that empowers lay leaders.

"Pastors can’t do everything anymore, and shouldn’t," Father Lorig said. "It’s about raising up the lay apostolate.

"You get a lot more fruit if you cast the vision for a small group of faith-filled people, you raise them up and empower them, and then ask them to do the same thing. It’s a spiritual multiplication. It’s equipping disciples.

"We want to change the culture – that’s our focus in all three priorities in our vision for the Archdiocese of Omaha – to create a culture of encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy," Father Lorig said.

Merely adding more programs to an already very busy schedule won’t be effective, he said. The archdiocese has great Catholic schools, priests and personnel, Father Lorig said. "We’re all working hard. So what’s wrong? What are we missing?"

"It all comes down to one’s lived encounter with Jesus Christ and helping others encounter Christ," he said.

"Once we’ve done that and experienced divine intimacy – his love, his compassion and his mercy for us – it transforms us individually, then the rest of the plan will take care of itself."

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