Elders from a tribe in northern India stared across a river swollen with monsoon rains at Bishop George Palliparampil, S.D.B., of the Diocese of Miao who was on his way to their remote village to celebrate Mass.
The ferryboat captain told the bishop he would not make the crossing because the journey was too risky. The boat, made of three logs tied together, could wash away and take the two men with it.
Knowing the tribe would not be able to attend Mass for several months due to the monsoons, Bishop George grabbed onto a rope the elders shot across with a bow and arrow, placed his Mass kit on his head and stepped into the river.
It took him four hours to arrive.
“I would cross a raging river for Jesus any day for what He has done for me,” the bishop said when he was asked why he did it.
This true story was shared by Julianne Stanz, director of the Department of New Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., during a professional enrichment day for parish leaders titled “Parish Leadership in a Changing Landscape.”
The day, held March 24 at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, was sponsored by the archdiocesan Catechetical Office, Office of Priest Personnel and Loyola Press.
The bishop is an example of what discipleship looks like, said Mrs. Stanz, whose talk focused on missionary discipleship and inspirational leadership. “Many of our Catholics today are sleepwalking in their faith,” she said.
“We have to show the love of the Lord has taken over our lives,” said Mrs. Stanz, who added, “Our children’s faith depends on it.”
Parish transformation starts with the leadership, she explained to the audience of more than 120 directors and coordinators of religious education, Rite of Christian Initiation leaders and clergy. “Disciples make disciples,” she said.
Awakening disciples requires getting Catholics to a place where they give their life over to God, she said. That means more than simply attending Mass on Sundays. It is a long and challenging process, she said.
Cynthia Fratto, director of religious education at St. Martin de Porres parish in Poughkeepsie, sought to learn new strategies to help the families in her parish, and she said she was not disappointed. “What she is saying about evangelization is key,” she said. She hopes to use what she learned to help her parish grow.
Sister Pat Hogan, O.P., coordinator of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.) at St. Francis of Assisi in West Nyack, told CNY that she agreed with the day’s messages. “If we have a strong personal relationship with Christ, we can share that with others,” she said.
Heidi Reale, director of religious education at St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Lagrangeville, said, “We have been given the great gift of family and community. We need to meet our families where they are to help them grow in their faith.”
Sister Joan Curtin, C.N.D., director of the Catechetical Office, said, “Missionary discipleship is calling us to have a different approach on how to evangelize and catechize.
“Each one of us is called to preach the Gospel with our lives, with our head and with our heart,” she told CNY.
“In the New York State Catholic Bishops’ document, ‘The Catechetical Leader in the Third Millennium,’ there is a great emphasis in faith formation and religious education to form missionary disciples. Not to only give the knowledge of the faith, but also to help people live the faith today.
“The head and the heart go together. They are both essential.
“If our catechists, coordinators and directors are missionary disciples themselves, they can help the parish,” she said. “The challenge is great, but, even so, the people here are happy. They sense that God is here and calling them to go back and evangelize and catechize.
“I think they will feel a little more enabled to do it after today,” she said.