AUBURN — A few weeks ago, 13 Anglo Catholics from Auburn stepped outside their comfort zones and traveled to Geneva for a Mass celebrated entirely in Spanish. After Mass they lingered over lunch with the many Hispanics who also had participated in the liturgy.
Ken Kanya, a member of Holy Family Parish in Auburn, said he’d been nervous because he wasn’t sure what to expect during the Mass and didn’t know what he would talk about with the Hispanic people afterwards. The visitors from Auburn enjoyed both the Mass and the luncheon, however, and by the time he left Geneva Kanya realized his fears had been unfounded.
Sharing a meal with the Hispanics had allowed him to bond with them and get much more out of the Spanish Mass than he would have otherwise, he said.
“Having the meal afterwards and getting to talk to the people, it was a lot easier,” Kanya said. “It was something that unless you were committed to doing it, you’d never do it ordinarily.”
The Mass and luncheon were “border-crossing experiences” for Kanya and the other 12 from Auburn. Such experiences are among the key components of JustFaith, a 30-week justice-education and social-ministry program offered through diocesan Catholic Charities.
Holy Family Parish began hosting a JustFaith group in January, and 13 members of the six parishes in the Auburn Catholic Community — Holy Family, Sacred Heart/St. Ann, St. Alphonsus, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Hyacinth and St. Mary — have been meeting each week to learn about and discuss Catholic social teachings, social justice and social ministry.
Jack Jezreel, executive director of the national JustFaith Ministries, founded the program in 1989, when he was hired to begin a social-ministry program at a parish in Louisville, Ky. Frustrated by a lack of parishioner interest and participation during his first year at the parish, he developed a new social-ministry program based on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, said Ruth Putnam Marchetti, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Livingston and Wayne counties and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
The program quickly caught on, and throughout the next several years hundreds of groups throughout the country participated in JustFaith, which works in partnership with Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, according to www.justfaith.org.
The first JustFaith groups formed in the Diocese of Rochester in 2004, and since then 17 groups and more than 200 individuals have completed the program, said Brigit Hurley, parish social-ministry coordinator for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center. Five additional groups have committed to the program for next year, five more are considering the program, and it’s not too late for interested individuals to join or start a program for next year, she said.
“Nobody goes through it and isn’t changed,” she said.
St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Ontario is planning to start a JustFaith group next year, as is St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua, site of one of the first JustFaith groups, Putnam Marchetti said.
JustFaith participants follow a 30-week curriculum, reading books about social justice and Catholic social teaching and discussing them at weekly meetings, where they also watch relevant videos and listen to guest speakers, Putnam Marchetti said.
“The whole idea is that (Catholic social teaching) is our best-kept secret, and just opening that door to folks is an eye-opener. It really asks a lot of people, but more and more people are looking for something profound from their faith,” Putnam Marchetti said. “One of the wonderful things about the program is not just the immersion in Catholic social teaching, but the building of community.”
JustFaith begins with a weekend retreat, which helps participants build that sense of community necessary for them to feel comfortable opening up to each other and participating in discussions during the weekly meetings, said Bernie Tomasso, facilitator for the Auburn JustFaith group.
“You do some soul-searching and as much sharing as you’re comfortable doing. In this group, people can come here and share, and people can come here and listen,” said Tomasso, a member of Holy Family Parish.
It’s this sharing of ideas that makes JustFaith so valuable and life-changing, said Maureen Famiglietti, a member of St. Mary Parish.
“I would never have gotten out of the (reading materials) what I did from us sharing and talking about it,” said Famiglietti, who said her group has become, in essence, a small Christian community that probably will continue to meet even after the 30 weeks are over.
“In the beginning, 30 weeks seemed like such a long time, but it’s just flown,” said Holy Family parishioner Anne Bishop.
“I look forward to it. I like to come out and be with everybody here,” added Judy Valvo, a member of Sacred Heart Parish, where her husband, Deacon Nick Valvo, is pastoral associate.
Bishop said she wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when she signed up for the program, but she’s been pleasantly surprised to learn how much ground the program covers. JustFaith has opened her eyes to the surprising realization that injustice and deep poverty can be found right in Auburn, she said.
Kanya said JustFaith helped him understand the difference between social justice and charity.
“Social justice is helping people to improve their lives, rather than doing charity work and just giving them something,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about JustFaith, contact Ruth Putnam Marchetti at 800-388-7177, ext. 1366, or Brigit Hurley at 585-262-7099.