Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
Deacon Bob Griffin and those who advise him in his role as director of the Propagation of the Faith for the Diocese of Richmond are making a mission appeal. It’s not for money, but for parishes — parishes with the resources and members willing to commit to developing a relationship with mission parishes in the diocese. (A list of missionary parishes can be found at https://richmonddiocese.org/office/propagation-of-the-faith/.)
While the financial support a larger parish can provide to a mission parish is welcome and necessary, it goes beyond money, according to Deacon Griffin, who has headed the office for eight years.
“Building a relationship and awareness is better than just giving money,” he said.
Deacon Griffin noted that what is often overlooked is the spirituality that comes with a relationship.
“We’re all called to mission,” he said.
A goal of the Propagation of the Faith advisory board was to “see if we could build some awareness and some enthusiasm for building relationships.”
He continued, “I don’t know that people understand how small some of the parishes are in the southwest … they take great pride, and they have great faith, and it’s vibrant.”
The deacon sees twinning as an opportunity to build upon that faith.
“The faith of the people in that area is strong, but it is an older population, and it is not growing. Whether this would have any effect on that, I don’t know. But it needs not only financial help, but it needs evangelical help, if you will,” Deacon Griffin said. “The idea would be just to try to make people aware that our diocese is very spread out and it’s very diverse.”
‘Disciples sent on mission’
When Father David Ssentamu, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul, Palmyra, and St. Joseph’s Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, Columbia, came to the Diocese of Richmond from the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda in 2016, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo assigned him to St. Joseph, Woodlawn; All Saints, Floyd, and Risen Lord, Stuart.
“Working there I appreciated that the Church is supposed to be missionary,” he said. “We are disciples sent on mission. Jesus Christ sent us to be missionaries, to make more disciples, and that requires us to share our resources.”
When he was serving parishes in the southwest, Father Ssentamu, who serves on the Propagation of the Faith advisory council, participated in the diocese’s Missionary Cooperative Program in which the pastor of a mission parish is assigned to speak at a larger parish’s Masses in order to ask the congregation for support.
“I would beg for my churches and tell them about our churches and the living conditions so they would appreciate what they have,” he said.
While Father Ssentamu could tell people about his parishes through the cooperative program, he sees the value that twinning relationships provide.
“With twinning, each of these parishes (the mission parish and the supporting parish) benefits from the other,” he said, noting that members of the larger parish become more aware of needs when they visit the mission parish.
“If they are able to visit Tazewell once a year, they will see and appreciate those things they take for granted,” Father Ssentamu said, noting that when the parish did not have a parking lot parishioners still “made the effort to come to church when it was muddy.”
He continued, “When others come to the missions, they begin to appreciate what they have in their parishes because they haven’t been exposed to other conditions.”
Deacon Bob Straub, who serves at Sacred Heart, Prince George, and as chairperson of the Propagation of the Faith advisory council, said people’s awareness of mission parish needs can occur in various ways.
“There has to be open dialogue,” he said. “The larger parish has to be open to what is needed, the smaller parish has to articulate it to them.”
Although Deacon Straub has done mission work in Honduras — “the poor were right there in my face” — as a member of the Missioners of Christ, he said missionary work is not just outside the United States.
“We need to put it out there in front of the larger parishes — smaller parishes in our diocese are really suffering and could use their help,” he said. “They need to hear from the bishop: ‘Other guys are hurting. You’re doing well. Let’s see what you can do to help out.’”
Deacon Straub said people have become “blinded” to what is happening.
“They have gotten so comfortable they fail to see rest of the diocese where people are hurting,” he said. “We don’t know how to make people experience that. We could have people spend a week at a mission parish.”
‘Wouldn’t you want the help?’
Father Joseph Wamala, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton, since 2011 and vice chairperson of the Propagation of the Faith advisory council, said the bishop and the pastors are key to promoting the needs of mission parishes and in helping people get a picture of how large the diocese is.
“The bishop can shine a light on those mission parishes. Before we think of helping others we should look at needs locally,” the priest said. “If it comes from the bishop, it would be something for the priests to look at the local missions.”
Father Wamala, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda who has served in the diocese since 2010, said pastors of larger parishes should look at the need for support in another way.
“You may be in a big parish today, but tomorrow you could be there (in a mission parish). If you are there, wouldn’t you want the help?” said the priest whose first assignments were at St. Theresa, Farmville; Immaculate Heart of Mary, Blackstone; Nativity, Buckingham and Sacred Heart, Meherrin.
Father Wamala reassures pastors that twinning with a mission parish will not have a negative financial impact upon their parish.
“Sometimes pastors become afraid. They say, ‘If I tell people about missions they won’t support our local parish,’” he said. “It won’t affect support for the parish. When they are convinced of that they will be more accepting of the twinning program.”
Father Wamala said “a little help from bigger parishes” is important to mission parishes.
“They have a rich heritage. The people really love their parishes. They want their parishes to survive. They just can’t support them economically,” he said.
While some see pastors as the ones who will initiate the relationship between larger parishes and mission parishes, Deacon Bob Young, a member of the Propagation of the Faith advisory council who serves at St. Joseph, Petersburg, suggested that laity take the lead.
“Our priests are so overworked and have a lot going on. Find a champion to lead an effort like that, spend time on it, to volunteer and get people to do the work,” he said.
Deacon Young noted that larger parishes “get stretched thin” due to all of the ministries they have.
“The effort should be built to get engagement and involvement of the laity,” he said.
Deacon Young, a Missioner of Christ who has helped set up mission work opportunities for high school and college students in Honduras, said there is more to missionary work than “money and giving.”
“It’s about discipleship and evangelization,” he said.
Editor’s note: For more information about the Propagation of the Faith, including information about the Missionary Cooperative Program and twinning, contact Deacon Bob Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How one parish twins with missions
Deacon David Nemetz, director of human concerns and pastoral care at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Glen Allen, has advice for a parish that wants to twin with a mission parish.
“Start with the existing structure of the church. Get the pastor’s permission. You have to be grounded in your own congregation. Get the two pastors talking. Pastors need to talk,” he said, adding, “Relationship is hard.”
St. Michael Parish has had a twinning relationship with Holy Family Parish, which includes St. Joseph, Grundy; St. Mary, Richlands; St. Theresa, Tazewell, and St. Elizabeth, Pocahontas, for more than 20 years.
Father Dan Brady, pastor of St. Michael, served in that area for 20 years. The parish has St. Michael House in Tazewell where parishioners can stay when they visit the communities.
That presence is important, according to Deacon Nemetz.
“By going to their leadership committees, you’ll be around people who know the needs,” he said. “Spend time with them.”
All of the financial support contributed to St. Michael’s Appalachian Twinning Ministry (ATM) is funneled through Holy Family Parish. The contributions are used to address the needs of the four parishes as well as broader community needs, including the Center for Christian Action in Pocahontas and the Teen Venture Center in Richlands.
Discernment, according to Deacon Nemetz, is an important part of the ATM.
“We discern how we partner up with them depending on their need,” he said. “There is prayerful discernment of why we’re doing what we’re doing, what are the needs and what can we do.”
While acknowledging that the St. Michael congregation “responds when we ask,” Deacon Nemetz said, “It’s all about understanding the folks, walking with them. It’s a ministry of presence.”
— Brian T. Olszewski