October, 2016

Building Bridges

At the recent World Youth Day gathering in Poland, Pope Francis told 1.6 million young people: “God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. . . Life nowadays tells us that it is much easier to concentrate on what divides us, what keeps us apart. People try to make us believe that being closed in on ourselves is the best way to keep safe from harm. Today, we adults need you to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”

Making Connections

The Catholic parish is an excellent place for building bridges because it can provide occasions for people to interact with those different from ourselves, including individuals who might need help, support, friendship or assistance. Two of many parishes who offer a wide variety of opportunities for parishioners to break out of their own worlds are located in Washington, DC. One is the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in the Chevy Chase section of DC. They provide parishioners with many options, including activities centered around feeding the hungry, helping the sick and homebound, social action formation and legislative action. Some of the more creative outreach projects include growing food on parish grounds to donate to the hungry, taking CD’s and books from the library to the homebound, and working to “green” the parish, along with planning environmental education events. (www.blessedsacramentdc.org)

The second parish is Holy Trinity in the Georgetown section of DC. The key components of their Social Justice ministry include direct service opportunities, advocacy, education, spirituality, and a large social justice tithe for scholarships and worthy causes. (www.trinity.org) One of the more popular events is the annual “Power of One,” a parish-wide day of service in which 200 or more parishioners serve at various locations around the DC area. Because some of those who took part in this service day wanted to come together more often than once a year, there is now a monthly gathering of parishioners who perform service projects throughout the city. Holy Trinity also has two sister parishes, one in Haiti and the other in El Salvador. At the latter, the parish is currently supporting a comprehensive violence prevention plan for youth.

Attracting New People

To help parishioners “experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity,” as Pope Francis put it, contributing to worthy causes is not enough. Consider a parishioner who attends Mass regularly, at least two or three times a week, and is faithful in contributing to the collection but who is not active in any outreach ministry. That person might need a nudge to get over the hump from inactivity to involvement. What will capture this person’s imagination and sense of adventure? These three words could help: Visible, Personal and Companionship. Visible: Keep it simple. Promote just one outreach ministry one weekend per month. Talk it up at the Masses, include it as part of the homily, put up pictures in the gathering space and where refreshments are served, have those who have participated in the event do a presentation sometime over the weekend, hand out brochures and sign up cards. Personal: Nothing is more effective than a personal, one-on-one invitation. Have a cadre of leaders and outreach people talk to those who show interest, answer their questions and concerns, obtain their names and contact information, have them attend an orientation session, invite them to go on a trial run so they see firsthand what it is like. Companionship: Pair up with new people, give them a chance to talk about it afterwards, encourage them to come back, provide other options if this event did not fit their interests or desires. Be the bridge to help people step into new and renewing adventures.

Tom Sweetser, SJ, Debora Elkins, Jessamyn Amezquita