Parish leaders learned about these and more at a recent conference
Parish representatives praying at the New Wine Conference on Sept 17.
How can parishes build greater communion among their members? This was a major question tackled during the New Wine Conference held at SJI International on Sept 17.
About 400 representatives from parishes across the archdiocese attended the day-long event organised by the Office for the New Evangelisation (ONE).
According to ONE, the event’s aim was to facilitate a culture of communion in the archdiocese by encouraging parish leaders to focus on practices that can build communion in their own parishes.
In his opening remarks, Fr Terence Pereira said that “communion” was one of the four tenets of the New Evangelisation outlined by ONE, the other three being “word”, “witness” and “worship”.
Fr Terence, Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelisation, noted that in a ONE conference last year, the archdiocese decided to focus on “communion” first because “we need to be one as Jesus prayed”.
He said that when Catholics invite nonbelievers to church, or want to encourage other Catholics to be more active in church, and these people see that parishioners “are always fighting”, this “negative witnessing” will discourage them.
Fr Terence also stressed the importance of hospitality in building communion. “A Church that has so much hospitality in it will be a welcoming church that will draw people who do not want to leave,” he said.
A skit then followed which showed a parish priest and two parishioners discussing how to celebrate the parish’s feast day, with different people coming up with different ideas.
Commenting on the skit as well as the Gospel story on four friends who brought a paralytic man to Jesus, Fr Terence noted that different people in the parish have different levels of enthusiasm and commitment and sometimes this leads to tension, as dramatized in the skit.
“At best people coexist,” said Fr Terence, adding that “at this level there is no real communion”.
He stressed the importance of communication among different parish groups – not just to talk about work, but to have fellowship with one another. “We need to reach out” in order to build community in the parish, he stressed.
Envy and community
Fr Valerian Cheong, in his talk, referred to the Gospel story of the vineyard owner who paid his workers the same amount regardless of the number of hours they worked. Fr Valerian noted that the vineyard owner told those who grumbled at the seemingly unfair treatment, “Why be envious because I am generous?”
Fr Valerian said that such envy also occurs in parishes. “Envy destroys community” and is “the absence of gratitude”, adding that the consequences are backbiting, grumbling and gossiping.
On the other hand, having a sense of gratitude “helps to build the community”, he said.
Two parishioners from the Church of St Anthony then shared their experiences of how hospitality helped to build community in their parish.
Ms Candice Ong, who became a communion minister, a few years ago, shared that one of the ministry’s tasks is to greet people outside church with “peace be with you”.
“There were many times I didn’t get my ‘peace’ back,” said Ms Ong, adding that some people just didn’t respond.
But gradually, she got to know people in the other parish ministries and slowly the “peace be with you” response she received sometimes came “with a hug” as well. “I felt very loved by my community,” she said.
Her fellow parishioner, Mr Julian Tan, then shared his experience of starting a neighbourhood group after receiving what he felt was a prompting from the Lord.
Mr Tan said he experienced “the love of the community” as the group journeyed with one another. “We were really brothers and sisters… we actually grew as a ‘family’,” he said.
Fr Terence Pereira: ‘We need to be one.’
In his talk, Fr Cornelius Ching, stressed the importance of hospitality in building communion.
“Very often, when we talk about hospitality, we talk about what we can do,” he said. “Is our hospitality based on things that we do, or does it come from an outpouring of the heart?
Referring to the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, in which Martha was stressed out serving Jesus while Mary sat listening to Him, Fr Cornelius asked, “Who is the more hospitable one?” adding that “we need to look at hospitality with a whole new mindset.”
During the conference, participants also broke up into three groups to discuss various issues.
In the first group, “How to engage the Youth and Young Adults”, Fr Terence shared with participants the importance of recognising the gifts that children and youth have and helping them to develop their gifts.
Fr Jude David also shared how it is necessary to reach out to young people where they are, and not wait for them to come to us.
Fr Erbin Fernandez and the Amplify team from the Catholic Spirituality Centre shared how they moved from a service-based ministry to one that experiences communion through activities.
In the second group, “What Engages People?”, Ms Rofina Tham from ONE noted that vibrant parishes have a high percentage of Catholics who are spiritually committed, participative, and who regard their church as family. Such engaged Catholics are more likely to serve their church and invite their friends to church.
On the other hand, those who are not engaged may attend church regularly though their connection to the community is more social than emotional. The disengaged, however, may come to church only once or twice a year.
Ms Tham suggested that those who are not engaged are the best potential group to reach out to to help them get more engaged with the parish. For the disengaged, it is important to support them pastorally.
The third group, a workshop on “The power of sharing your faith story”, was led by a team from the Institute for World Evangelisation (ICPE).
The team highlighted that it is the duty of every Christian to evangelise. Participants learnt that many Catholics do not talk about their faith or give explicit witness. In order to do this, one must have a living and intimate relationship with Jesus, participants learnt.
The conference saw the launch of the Jesus4everyone campaign which aims to help Catholics become aware of the need to evangelise. Participants were also given car decals with the logo and special lanyards which they can give to their friends.
Mr Xavier Woon, from the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, said he feels the Church is finally recognising the situation regarding youth, young adults and parents in the parishes, “and with that recognition they are going to do something about it”.
Ms Vanessa Lim, 25, said the conference taught her “to appreciate and embrace everyone’s differences in our parish, so that we can go beyond just coexistence, and truly become brothers and sisters in Christ”.
“I find that especially useful in the various ministries that I serve in,” said Ms Lim, who is president of the young adults ministry at the Church of the Holy Cross.
Additional reporting: VANESSA LIM and GERARD FRANCISCO
By Christopher Khoo