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placeholder February 4, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Small parish groups key to sharing faith with others

Rev. Dan Danielson

"Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name" is the theme of the long-running television series "Cheers." It can also serve as a catch phrase for Small Christian Communities.

The early Church was a grouping of "house churches," small groups of believers who came together to share their memories of Jesus and to celebrate the "breaking of the bread" as He had instructed them to do.

But in our large parishes, most of our people do not know one another and many who come to Church come to church "alone," either as a nuclear family or as an individual. They have little opportunity to share their faith with anyone else.

The small Christian communities are not just a program, but a way of being Church, a way of sharing faith, supporting one another in our living the Gospel and celebrating the presence of the Lord among us "where two or three are gathered."

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Our whole diocese entered into this process through the program called RENEW back in the mid '90s. Many of the people of the diocese were part of small faith sharing groups for six weeks, for six sessions over a period of three years. Each of these six-week sessions had a particular theme, e.g. season six: Evangelization. Many of these small faith-sharing groups continued on together after RENEW as a program ceased. Most frequently, they reflected together on the Sunday Scriptures. Some of these groups have been together for more than 20 years at this point.

As part of the Year of Faith, the diocese is encouraging a renewed effort to invite parishioners into small faith sharing groups. There are many formats available, various themes from a variety of sources running various lengths of time. These groups meet weekly or every-other week. They have a facilitator meeting with them during the hour and a half meeting.

Recently, the diocese had a meeting with the clergy of the diocese to share with them the great plethora of resources that are available for small Christian communities today and to encourage them to give a renewed emphasis to forming these small Christian communities in this Year of Faith. Each parish needs however a designated staff person or a dedicated volunteer to head up this effort to help form new small faith-sharing groups and/or to help and encourage the ones that already exist. The diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis will help resource the parishes with resources and facilitator training in both Spanish and English.

The Year of Faith, which ends in November, runs into another major theme of the Catholic Church today — the new Evangelization.

Many Catholics have never openly shared their faith with anyone, have little or no practice of speaking about their faith in personal terms. How can they be expected to reach out and share their faith with others who have drifted away from the Church or who have no religious affiliation at all (the fastest growing sector of the American public)?

By being a part of a small Christian community, Catholic people can become more comfortable speaking about their faith, what it means to them and why. One of the fruits of being the Church-in-small-groups is that we are better enabled to share that faith with others, something we are clearly all called to do.

Many older parents struggle with the fact that their adult children do not practice their faith or seem to have "dropped out" altogether. Wouldn't they be thrilled to know that someone had reached out to their child and invited them to "come and see," "take another look" and been willing to accompany them along the way?

One of the truisms is: If you want someone to do this for your child, you have to do it for someone else's child.

Being a part then of the small Christian communities is not just for one's own spiritual growth and comfort, but also enables us and encourages us to be able to share what we have received — the great gift of faith that gives meaning and purpose to all that we do.

That is why this particular small-group emphasis in the Year of Faith is so critical to our addressing the most-pressing issue of our day: Evangelization, sharing the Good News with our world.

Questions and answers on the Year of Faith What is the Year of Faith?

At certain times in Church history, popes have called upon the faithful to dedicate themselves to deepening their understanding of a particular aspect of the faith. In 1967, Pope Paul VI announced a Year of Faith commemorating the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul.

The upcoming Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI is a "summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world" (Porta fidei 6). In other words, the Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion — to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. The pope has described this conversion as opening the "door of faith" (see Acts 14:27). The "door of faith" is opened at one's baptism, but during this year Catholics are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.

When is it?

The Year of Faith begins Oct. 11, 2012 and concludes Nov. 24, 2013. Oct. 11, the first day of the Year of Faith, was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and also the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. During the Year of Faith, Catholics are asked to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the catechism so that they may deepen their knowledge of the faith.

How are Year of Faith and New Evangelization linked?

The New Evangelization is a call to each Catholic to deepen his or her own faith, have confidence in the Gospel and possess a willingness to share the Gospel. The New Evangelization is first and foremost a personal encounter with Jesus Christ; it is an invitation to deepen one's relationship with Christ. It is also a call to each person to share his or her faith with others. The Year of Faith, just like the New Evangelization, calls Catholics to conversion to deepen their relationship with Christ and to share it with others.

What does it mean to the average Catholic?

Every baptized Catholic is called through baptism to be a disciple of Christ and proclaim the Gospel. The Year of Faith is an opportunity for each and every Catholic to renew their baptismal call by living out the everyday moments of their lives with faith, hope and love. This everyday witness is necessary for proclaiming the Gospel to family, friends, neighbors and society. In order to witness to the Gospel, Catholics must be strengthened through celebrating weekly Sunday Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Pastors are encouraged to provide their parishioners with opportunities to deepen their faith during the Year of Faith through retreats, special liturgies, Bible studies, service opportunities and formation sessions on the catechism and sacraments.

— US Conference of Catholic Bishops

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