by Joe Bollig
KELLY — They were gathered for an Upper Room experience, to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and be inspired to build a culture of prayer in their families, parishes and communities.
More than 100 laymen and women and seven priests from the parishes of the Nemaha-Marshall Region gathered at St. Bede Parish in Kelly on Sept. 18 for a Day of Prayer and Recollection.
The day was among the fruits of the archdiocesan Enflame evangelization initiative launched in October 2019. It was organized by the pastors and parish evangelization committees of the pastoral region and the archdiocesan evangelization office. The idea for the day came from Father Arul Carasala, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca.
“The Gospel of Matthew . . . says, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there,’” said Father Carasala in his welcome to the participants. “The purpose of this day is just not [to gather] two or three. We have more than 100 people representing each parish in our region to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in this Upper Room. We need the gift of the Holy Spirit . . . to cultivate a culture of prayer.”
It was a blessing in disguise that the archdiocesan convocation was held and the Enflame initiative launched just before the pandemic began, said Father Carasala. On the Day of Prayer and Recollection, the parish delegates who participated in that convocation would come under one roof to ask God: Where do we go from here?
“There is no hidden agenda here,” said Father Carasala. “It’s all open for discussion. Every parish is different, and we want to strengthen and support every parish in every possible way to create this culture of prayer. That is the purpose of our meeting today. I would invite you to please open up yourselves to welcome the gift of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us.”
The daylong event included presentations by Mike Scherschligt, executive director of the Holy Family School of Faith in Overland Park, and Emily Lopez, lead consultant in the archdiocesan office of evangelization. There was also small group discussion and sharing, Mass, eucharistic adoration, and Benediction and fellowship time. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass.
Evangelizing those who’ve fallen away from the Catholic faith and those who never had it sounds like a good idea — but how?
Scherschligt had the answer: Be the bridge.
“We’re in the midst of a very bad trend,” he said. “[There are] 337 million people in the United States. 100 million are baptized Catholic . . . only 15 percent come to Mass every Sunday. That was in January of 2020. Now, with COVID, in most places in the country we lost another five percent. We’re probably at only 10 percent who go to Mass every Sunday.”
Pastors have a role, but evangelization is primarily the work of every Catholic layperson.
“It’s your mission to be the bridge for those people who’ve fallen away back to the parish,” said Scherschligt. “That’s your job. We have to be the bridge. So, how do we bring them back?”
The means to carry out this mission are friendship and prayer, he said. It’s not a program, but a habit and a way of life.
Scherschligt offered a four-ingredient recipe that “we need to become experts in.” The ingredients are: First, commit to formation through daily meditation on the rosary; second, daily good conversation in friendship; third, bring the first two together as often as possible; and fourth, invite other people to share life with you while you’re doing it.
“While you’re sharing life, ask the good questions and talk, and if the circumstances are right, invite them to pray the rosary with you,” said Scherschligt. “It’s a really simple formula.”
You also need to build a “team.”
“I think every person wants a small group of family and friends with whom they can share life regularly, where we live,” said Scherschligt, “so we can enrich one another with our gifts and stretch one another with our differences. And this becomes the place where we can invite those who’ve lost sight of God or are far away from the church. But to do this, we have to make a commitment to share life with other people regularly, so there is a place to invite others. And this becomes your team.”
So far, the Nemaha-Marshall Region is the only one that has held an event like this. But it may not be the last.
“I think this was great and a model for other regions to use to get our evangelization teams revved up and spiritually nourished to lead parish evangelization efforts in their communities,” said Archbishop Naumann.
There will be a follow-up at each parish.
“This has created an energy in the group, and we’re going to try to do some things in the parish,” said Father Carasala. “My goal is to . . . maybe two hours one evening every quarter . . . come back, visit, pray and share what has worked for you, and go on from there.”