BY CHRISTOPHER ORLET
Last spring, Bishop Edward K. Braxton asked capable, dedicated parishioners from throughout the Diocese of Belleville to come forward to serve as lay ecclesial ministers and contribute their time and talent to the renewal, revitalization and strengthening of their parishes. These lay ministers will assist the priests and deacons in the service of God and neighbor, helping fellow parishioners to learn their faith, love their faith, and live their faith.
The goal of this new pastoral program, “Into My Vineyard,” is to increase the number of well-trained lay ministers for servant leadership, to renew and rebuild Catholic parish life in the diocese Parish Partnerships in accordance with The Pastoral Plan for Parish Renewal and Restructuring.
Thus far, the response to the Bishop’s call has been overwhelming. When the program was announced the goal at the time was about four participants in the pilot program per Parish Partnership.
At the kick-off session Sept. 16 the gym was nearly packed. Program assistant Dustin McSparin said there were 154 people at the session, about twice the number expected. Seventy parishes participated out of the 113 parishes in the diocese.
Delighted with the response was Diocesan Director of Worship Sue Huett. “This is something that is so needed, so it is great to see so many people willing to step up despite their busy lives,” she said.
One of those who stepped up was Joe Pineau of St. Joseph Parish in Cobden. St. Joseph is in partnership with St. Mary in Anna. Pineau said he was nominated for the program and went through a selection process. He said the pastor of those two parishes, Father Federico Higuera, is extremely busy. “We just want to do whatever we can to help out,” he said.
Andrew Trainor of St. Mary Parish in Anna was also nominated and selected for the program. “We’re seeing parishes closing to the south of us, so my hope is to keep our parish open any way we can,” Trainor said. He said his parish is growing with an influx of Hispanics. St. Joseph has a Spanish mass on Sunday at 5 p.m. Meanwhile, more younger parishioners are getting involved in the local Knights of Columbus. “The average age of the members of the organization is forty,” he said. Trainor said that while the economy in southern Illinois was far from booming, most residents are choosing to stay where their roots are.
Another participant, Susan Scheffer of St. Mary Parish in Anna, said she wants to step up and do whatever she can to support the parish. “Being Catholic is a great privilege and a great responsibility,” she said.
Any Catholic with time, energy, deep faith and a genuine love for his or her parish is capable of becoming a lay ecclesial minister. He or she can serve full time or part time according to his or her availability and the needs of the parish.
The program consists of eight sessions per year. Preparation times continue on the third Saturday of the month through May 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Participants will have a chance to study basic teachings of the church, especially those of Vatican Council II, “The Constitution on the Church” and “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.” These monthly sessions are offered in Belleville, Marion or Mt. Vernon.