It could not have been a more relaxing or enriching experience — the gathering on Sunday of the people of St. Mary of the Lake, Ontario; Epiphany, Sodus; and St. Rose, Sodus Point.
We met in near ideal weather at Casey Park in Ontario for the Eucharistic Liturgy at 11 a.m. Following the liturgy, we enjoyed hot dogs and hamburgers and a wonderful array of foods prepared at home by parishioners and brought to the park for everyone’s enjoyment.
As is always the case when I visit parish communities, I noted the hospitality and warmth of the people. And, that was true on Sunday. The people seemed genuinely happy to be together. That there was an ease among them and a cordial disposition was very apparent to me. Anyone unaware of the fact would never guess that the communities present at the celebration have been involved in the challenging work of pastoral planning — with all of the demands that come with it. In conversations I had with them, several parishioners mentioned the hard work involved and the patience it required. But not one of them was anything but positive about the work that had already been done or the new possibilities that the work has opened up for them.
Much of that good spirit, as I observe the situation, has to do with the leadership of Father Simon Peter Ntaiyia, his colleagues and predecessors in pastoral ministry in the three communities. I make special mention also of Father Jesus Flores and Sister Luci Romero who serve the migrant population and who are very much a part of all three communities. They all have been effective in explaining the need for thoughtful pastoral planning, raising up the vision of new and life-giving possibilities and of encouraging people when they become weary or discouraged by the effort required.
Important as good leadership is, the warmth, vision and courage that make this such a vibrant community is rooted in the hearts of the people. They faithfully live and support one another in the Christian life. I think of the 94-year-old woman who has spent her whole life in the parish, and who was excited to join the community on this festive occasion. What a witness of faith she is to all. I think of Nicholas Aiden Caine, just several weeks old, whom we baptized into the faith to the great delight of the assembly. What a sign of new life and renewed hope for a community engaged in the hard work of planning. I think of Carol and Jim May who renewed their marriage vows on their 40th anniversary. Such a strong reminder to all of us that God stays with us in good times and bad.
That Sunday visit was a great grace for me for two reasons: 1) it afforded me the pleasure of praying with and talking to people who are alive with the faith and who are willing to work hard and in peaceful spirit to meet the tough pastoral challenges of the day. Their courage, joy and steadfastness were a powerful witness to me; and 2) it reminded me that this is not a rare or isolated example. We have many other communities who deal with similar issues — not without pain and frustration — but they remain mindful that the Lord is faithful to his promise to be with us always in the power of the Spirit. That to me, and — I hope to you — is a great encouragement.
As you consider your own parish situation, what do you identify as the painful and frustrating elements of pastoral planning? Where are you finding hope and joy and the promise of new life?
I will be making my annual retreat next week, so I will not be with you in the Catholic Courier. As I anticipate that experience, I ask for your prayers that God will bless it; and, I promise that you will be very much in my prayers through it all.
Peace to all.