Ontario mission boosts faith - Catholic Courier

Ontario mission boosts faith

ONTARIO — Ten people processed into the sanctuary of St. Mary of the Lake Church Feb. 25, each adding a children’s building block to a structure built on a small table. Father Gerry Flater, OFM, approached the structure a minute later, but it wasn’t to admire their handiwork.

Instead, he pulled a small tablecloth out from underneath the structure, sending most of the blocks tumbling to the ground. One block remained on the tablecloth, however. Father Flater said that this one small, seemingly insignificant block symbolized something very important — Christ.

Christ is the cornerstone of our lives, and he will always be there to love and support us, explained Father Flater and Rose Marie Lombard, facilitators of “Building the Kingdom in a Changing World,” a Lenten mission sponsored by St. Mary and Church of the Epiphany and St. Rose parishes in Sodus and Sodus Point.

The four-day mission is one of eight different programs offered by Isaiah Parish Missions, a national Catholic organization that has presented missions throughout the United States and Canada. Lombard has been a lay presenter with the organization for 19 years, and she and her husband, Deacon Dick Lombard, took over the organization in June 2006. The organization has a staff of about 45 ordained and lay presenters who travel to parishes for the missions, and they have presented in almost every diocese in the country, Lombard said.

The staff of Isaiah Parish Missions wrote “Building the Kingdom” in response to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the many challenges that have emerged in the world since that time, such as war, terrorism, economic collapse and the clergy sex-abuse scandal, said Lombard, who also is coordinator of the Urban Center at Rochester’s Holy Apostles Parish.

Many Catholic parishes in the diocese also are struggling with their own challenges, especially as parishes cluster and reconfigure through the pastoral-planning process, said Sister Doreen Glynn, CSJ, St. Mary’s pastoral administrator. The Ontario parish is gearing up to cluster with Church of the Epiphany and St. Rose within the next few months, she noted.

“There is upheaval and loss and struggling to retain identity, and at the same time forge ahead with a new identity. We thought that this would be just the perfect mission to present at this present moment,” Sister Glynn said.

The struggles, insecurities and fears we face can sometimes make us feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath us, just the way the tablecloth was pulled out from underneath the block structure during the mission, Lombard said.

“Even though we may have all these losses, insecurities, fears, the structure is never fully gone, because Christ is the cornerstone,” she noted.

“The only thing remaining stable and constant in our life is our trust in Jesus. As everything else falls apart, we rebuild it on the foundation of our faith,” Sister Glynn added.

Sometimes simply naming one’s fears and writing them down can help ease anxieties, Lombard told participants on Feb. 25, the first night of the mission. The next day, Lombard and Father Flater talked about the importance of forgiveness and offered participants the sacrament of reconciliation.

The third night’s topic was healing, so Father Flater and Lombard gave participants cardboard bricks and told them that their gifts and talents are the bricks needed to build God’s kingdom. Father Flater celebrated Mass for the participants on the mission’s final evening.

“We always celebrate Eucharist the fourth night because we feel we’re empowered by the Eucharist to go forth and evangelize. We try to empower the lay people to live out their baptismal call,” Lombard said.

Representatives from the sponsoring parishes actually began planning for the Lenten mission at least six weeks earlier, when they formed a team to prepare for the event, said Ruth Neumann, coordinator of the mission and a St. Mary parishioner. Team members met once a week to do the physical preparation work and engage in faith-sharing discussions related to the mission’s themes, she said.

In the weeks following the mission, team members planned to facilitate similar faith-sharing discussions for anyone interested, regardless of whether they attended the mission, she said. This involvement by the sponsoring parishes is one of the hallmarks of Isaiah Parish Missions, Lombard said.

“The parish takes ownership. It’s their mission, and our presenters are fortunate to be part of the faith life of the community for a few days. We’re part of their spiritual journey,” she said.

“One of the things that struck me was the generous spirit of our parishioners and the wonderful gifts and blessings that God has poured on us,” Neumann added.

In the weeks preceding the mission parishioners also prayed for the presenters, the participants and the mission’s success, Sister Glynn said.

“We asked his blessings and multitudinous graces to flow through this mission,” she said. “Really, I think the Lord has answered the prayer of the parishioners.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Isaiah Parish Missions, visit the organization’s Web site at www.isaiahmissions.org.

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