A successful partnering of West Side parishes with COPS/Metro Alliance to study Pope Francis' recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship), owes it all to Zoom-and the savvy leaders involved.
It began with an informal discussion on the encyclical between Father John Rajarjo, CICM, Pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Father Bill Kraus, OFM, Cap., Pastor of Our Lady of the Angles and Mayra Juarez-Denis, an organizer for COPS/Metro. Their intent was to offer a study program on Fratelli Tutti to parishioners, but instead of clergy leading the gatherings, parishioners would be enabled to teach it themselves.
"One of the things we do at COPS/Metro," notes Juarez-Denis, "is identify talent in the parishes so they develop their leadership, which will benefit not only themselves, but their families and parish life and the community."
Such a study program would expand the parish sense of community as well as lead them to reflect together on an underlying theme of Fratelli Tutti: Who is My Neighbor?
"Fratelli Tutti is a great document, not just for the Church but for the world," says Father Kraus. "It talks about how we understand and approach the common good. If we are going to work for the common good, locally, nationally, internationally, Pope Francis says we have to base it on the fact that we are brothers and sisters."
Parish 'Fratelli Tutti' Study Groups Go Virtual, Today's Catholic
As the most ethnically diverse parish in the Diocese of Fort Worth, St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish in Arlington, Texas holds mass in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Twi. Over the last two years, in partnership with the Dallas Area Sponsoring Committee, the parish has undergone a deeply embedded congregational development process involving 3,000 parishioners – 600 of which participated in small group conversational encounters held by 80 ministry leaders.
Subsequent congregational development meetings integrated Catholic Social Teaching into training sessions on leadership, stewardship and responsibility to the common good. These meetings consistently drew 200 at a time. As a result, new leaders soon emerged for the pastoral council and other parish ministries. There is now clarity about the need to build a stronger parish community and attend to the challenges families face.
In November, after leaders heard weekly “horror stories” about the debilitating effect of predatory loans on families, St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish stood with the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops to publicly launch a campaign calling on the City of Arlington to better regulate payday and title loan lending.
In an effort to engage face-to-face with parishioners in one of the most ethnically-diverse parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth, congregational leaders of St. Joseph Catholic launched a weekend-long house meeting campaign that drew 546 people into conversation. After each mass, parishioners were invited to stay an additional 30 minutes to get to know others in their congregation; multiple conversations were held in the circular sanctuary.
Congregational leaders who form the parish development team used the listening campaign to jump start their parish development process to hear concerns and identify new leaders for the church. The intent is to “develop disciples to live out the mission of the church in the community.” Leaders heard stories of unemployment and isolation. They also heard from parishioners who wanted to join certain ministries but had never been asked!
This action is part of a larger campaign to strengthen the institutions of Allied Communities of Tarrant in the Fort Worth area; a house meeting event years prior drew 300.
More photos, St. Joseph Catholic Church
Anniversary of September 11, Allied Communities of Tarrant
In 2014, five years after the foreclosure crisis had wiped out immigrant homeownership in Assumption Catholic Church in Monterey County, California, a new scam threatened the parish. Targeting low-income, Spanish speaking residents in Catholic churches, an unscrupulous group signed up thousands of predatory lending victims (at the price of $1,250 a head) for a lawsuit against the banks that defrauded them. The group had no real intention of seeing the lawsuit through.
However, unbeknownst to these characters, the leaders of Assumption had undergone in-depth parish leadership development, the result of which was a strong and vibrant team of new leaders who, from COPA, had learned to secure lighting in the parish neighborhood, sign up residents for expanded Medicaid and expand healthcare access for undocumented residents of Monterey. Having developed confidence in their own competence, upon hearing an announcement about the lawsuit at mass, these COPA-trained leaders immediately moved into action.
They stopped the predators from recruiting at their parish, alerted the Diocese of the danger to other Monterey County parishes and went on to persuade the County District Attorney to assign an investigator to the case. Through their training and experience, the parish leadership of Assumption was able to protect fellow parishioners and save thousands more families from being re-victimized.
During the onset of the Great Recession, Valley Interfaith Project Education Fund in Arizona worked with two central Phoenix parishes, St. Agnes and Most Holy Trinity, on parish leadership development and training. At both parishes, sizable influxes of immigrant families were challenging the pastors and parish leaders with how to deal with two quite distinct communities under one roof.
Through a patient series of training sessions which examined the relationship of the church and its leaders to the parish community, key members of the Latino and Anglo communities began to build relationships, evaluate their collective responsibilities to the parish, and initiate parish wide conversations around stewardship and the importance of parish membership and registration. Both parishes saw important gains in registered membership, participation in stewardship, and an appreciation among parishioners of the public role of the parish, particularly in defending the rights of the immigrant community. St. Agnes, an inner city parish, doubled its registered membership and added thousands to its weekly collections.