During Lent, two parishes in the Albany Diocese are taking advantage of this season of reflection to reenergize their parishioners.
Through an "Amazing God" lecture and prayer series, Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes and Immaculate Conception in Glenville seek to put the diocesan evangelization initiative into effect - and inspire such evangelization, as well as a greater knowledge of the love of God, in their parish families.
At Holy Trinity, a three-night retreat of talks by Rev. George Brennan, who is pastor of Our Lady of Hope parish in Copake Falls, was organized to welcome back fallen-away Catholics and welcome everyone to learn about a God who loves them.
In Glenville, Immaculate Conception parish began a series of talks in March that continue through April, centering on the theme of "Amazing God." The talks aim to reach the entire parish community and help them discover a deeper meaning in their Lenten journeys.
"We wanted to kick this off in Lent because that's when people are looking for more" from parishes and their own spiritual lives, said Maryann Haskell, a part of the Amazing God team at Immaculate Conception.
The organizers were proven right when more than 80 people attended a March 6 kickoff for lunch and a series of workshops.
Keep it light
Since then, "we have been keeping a light attitude for every event," said Mrs. Haskell. "We're not asking a lot - just encouraging them to come and find out more about, 'Who this God is who loves us?'"
Other events at Immaculate Conception included a night of reflection and humor with Sister Anne Bryan Smollin, CSJ, an author and head of the diocesan Counseling for Laity Office; a presentation by speaker and artist Brother Mickey McGrath, OSF; and, on April 14, a discussion with Peter Avvento, coordinator of the Amazing God initiative for the Diocese.
"We want to energize [parishioners], help them feel more of the Holy Spirit in their lives and get more involved in their parish," explained Mrs. Haskell. "If they can look internally and grow closer to God, then they can take that and reach out to others."
Salve for wounds
For Holy Trinity parish, the Amazing God initiative provided a means to heal. After numerous parish closures and mergers in Cohoes and the death of long-time pastor Rev. Arthur Becker in October, the parish was left with many wounds - and a loss of parishioners.
The Lenten program "was the right thing at the right time," concluded Julie Carrigan, a member of Holy Trinity's evangelization team. "We wanted to do whatever we could to help them through it and let them know it's not about anything but the love of God. You can go on."
Father Becker had assembled the evangelization team, eager to bring the Amazing God initiative to life right away at the parish.
"We realized how important evangelization is at this time in the history of the Church," Ms. Carrigan added. "People have stepped away for thousands of reasons and we need to remind them of what they had here."
After past years' events, retreats and homilies dedicated to evangelization and the love of God, this year's "Journey to our Amazing God" series invited parishioners to attend three nights of reflection, formation and reconciliation during March.
The focus, said Ms. Carrigan, was this year's Amazing God theme: "God is love."
"We want [Catholics] to know that God's love is always there. Even when we're not there, He's there, so we should reconcile ourselves to God," she said.
The Cohoes Lenten retreat was a great success. Many new faces have been seen at the events; some have added their names to the parish's rolls.
While both parishes are eager to see new and returning Catholics become active in parish life, both emphasize a simple welcome to start.
"Just come and see. We want to tell people to just come and listen," said Mrs. Haskell.
"The Church's hands are always out in welcome. It doesn't matter who you are," said Ms. Carrigan. "Sometimes the hardest part is stepping in - so just come. Maybe you'll find something that will change your life."