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Parishes ahead on evangelization
Staff Writer

Over three years, the Albany Diocese's new evangelization initiative, Amazing God, will aim to rejuvenate faith and reach inactive and disaffected Catholics, as well as the entirely unchurched.

While parish evangelization teams have begun developing methods and programs, many congregations already have programs that serve the goals of the project. Here are two examples.

Intergenerational community-building

Bring the children and the adults may follow. Holy Spirit parish in East Greenbush attracts more than 400 people to its faith formation program - including adults, an often evasive demographic in churches.

Children attend traditional classes 10 times a year, but bring their families to intergenerational sessions five other times.

In its fifth year, the LIFT (Living in Faith Together) program allows parishioners to discuss their beliefs, understand the Bible and learn to live as Catholics.

"We are baptized and expected to live out our faith," explained Kathleen Rosenbaum, parish associate and member of the LIFT team. "It doesn't stop and start at various points along our lives. This is to help foster lifelong faith formation."

Many parishes throughout the Diocese follow similar models. Our Lady of Fatima parish in Delanson uses a solely intergenerational model, said Joyce Solimini, diocesan director of adult faith formation.

"It's in bringing the generations together that we come to know our identity," Mrs. Solimini said, adding that the intergenerational format allows families to share histories.

It also attracts people normally uninterested in the weekly model, she said, such as those with learning disabilities or developmental disabilities.

"It's a way in which we are opening the doors and saying, 'We are a community that is constantly growing in our faith,'" Mrs. Solimini said.

Sessions at Holy Spirit parish start with a meal, followed by a large group discussion and age-appropriate small-group discussions. This year, they're talking about the parts of the Mass.

LIFT has inspired more parents of middle and high school students to attend faith formation classes and to become involved in parish ministries.

"We're there to help [parents]," Mrs. Rosenbaum said. "They're their child's first catechists."

St. Joseph's parish in Greenfield Center recently hosted its first sessions of LOFT (Living Our Faith Together), which attracted 127 people. Participants expressed interest in learning about the biblical basis for traditions and incorporating more religion into holidays, a team member said.

Deacon Gary Picher, parish life director at St. Joseph's, said the themes of Amazing God are present in the parish's faith formation efforts.

"Whether it's prayer and worship, evangelization or faith formation, these are addressing the same issue from different perspectives - and that issue is leading people to God," Deacon Picher said.

Programs welcome lapsed Catholics

Our Lady of Grace parish in Ballston Lake recently finished a six-week Inviting Catholics Home program. Though the number of participants dropped from eight to three by the end, committee members still say the program succeeded in familiarizing people with the modern Church.

"The feedback was very good," said Dorothy Sokol, parish life director. "Everybody was completely overwhelmed at the amount of time this community was willing to give them."

Each week, nine volunteers shared their stories of returning to the Church. Sessions concentrated on the Mass, prayers that participants may have forgotten and the meaning of the sacrament of reconciliation.

The parish advertised the event in three local newspapers, planted 25 road signs and hung banners at the church. Plans for a springtime program are in the works, perhaps in collaboration with the other parishes in its cluster.

Our Lady of Grace drew inspiration from the parish cluster of Corpus Christi in Round Lake, St. Edward's in Clifton Park and St. Mary's in Crescent.

Corpus Christi parish started using the Catholics Returning Home program about four years ago, attracting up to 20 people each session. Eventually, the sessions started rotating among the three parishes in the cluster.

Walter Forney, a program volunteer at Corpus Christi, praised the program's down-to-earth technique: "There's no selling. We're just there to give them our witness and that's it."

Participants often haven't been to Mass since before the 1960s' Second Vatican Council, which brought many changes to the Catholic Church. During the sessions, priests speak about those changes, the parts of the Mass and the sacraments -- but that's not the main point.

"When we talk to people, they don't see a religious or a priest telling them [about being away from the Church]; they see people who have actually lived this," said Mr. Forney.



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