New program in archdiocese means more direct involvement with CRS

Finding ways to live mercy by helping others – one goal of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s new pastoral vision and priority plan – is taking concrete shape with help from Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Archbishop George J. Lucas, Omar Gutierrez, manager of the Office of Missions and Justice, and three CRS officials – one via Skype from the East Coast – met March 14 with representatives of several archdiocesan ministries to discuss CRS’ Parish Ambassador Corps (PAC), which since 2015 has been training and supporting people at the parish level to advocate for the needy overseas and locally.

With the world facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II and people challenged by other needs, it’s important for neighbor to help neighbor, including those in foreign lands, Archbishop Lucas said.

"CRS is set up to help us do that," the archbishop said. "Their vision and ours is in harmony. I look forward to a great partnership."

Three dioceses – Boston, Cleveland and Seattle – were the first to establish a PAC. Since then, the dioceses of Philadelphia, San Bernardino in California, Indianapolis and Brownsville, Texas, have begun the effort, said Teresa Dunbar, a Midwest relationship manager for CRS.

Three more dioceses will launch PACs this year, and Omaha is among several dioceses taking the first steps, Dunbar said.

Initial goals in the Omaha archdiocese include forming a leadership team of about a dozen people to invite volunteers in up to 25 parishes to be ambassadors for CRS and social concerns, Gutierrez said. Volunteers could include people in already-established social justice ministries, he said.

By this fall, parish ambassadors could participate in a CRS-led retreat that would include training materials, Mass, opportunities for confession and other activities, Gutierrez said.

As ambassadors, they would be asked to spearhead annual parish participation in CRS’ Lenten Rice Bowl program and at least two other social justice initiatives aimed at helping people at international, national or local levels, Gutierrez said. They also could advise other ministries, such as youth groups, about their activities and invite more participation, he said.

CRS is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ international relief organization, and Archbishop Lucas, who is in his sixth year on CRS’ board of directors, has been considering involvement in PAC since the effort began, Gutierrez said.

And now, the initiative dovetails nicely with the archdiocese’s pastoral vision and priority plan announced in October, Gutierrez said. The vision has been summed up in the phrase, "One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy."

"As we try to connect a social structure to living out mercy, parish ambassadors bring this to a concrete level," he said.

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