Small Communities of Faith Can Revitalize the Church

FAIRFIELD— In his seventh of nine talks on regional collaboration throughout the diocese, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano challenged those in attendance to deepen their own relationship with Jesus, nurture small communities of faith, and find new ways to work together to renew their parishes and the diocese.

More than 125 parish leaders gathered for the morning session at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Center. The meeting included representatives from the Fairfield /Easton region including Holy Family-St Emery Parish, Holy Cross Parish, Notre Dame Parish of Easton, Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, St. Pius X Parish , and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.

The Bishop began by thanking pastors and priests for serving as spiritual fathers, and expressing his gratitude to lay leaders for the significant role they play in the life of their parishes.

“The parishes couldn’t do it without you. You are the backbone of ministries in parishes, and all of us value your input and time. Together we need to seize this opportunity because we are at a turning point that will lead us to renewal and growth,” he said.

The bishop noted that the Fairfield parishes got together more than a year ago to form the first regional pilot program, a collaboration to provide youth ministry. He said that he believes regional cooperation is essential in this moment in the life of the Church.

“We as a church have to start somewhere and take hold of one question above all others, ‘Do you believe in your heart of hearts that the challenges we face can be better addressed if parishes work together than on their own?’”

Recognizing and supporting small communities that exist naturally within parishes may hold the key to accompanying each other on our faith journey and passing on the faith to the next generation, he said.

“Can we believe the day will come in our own lifetime, when we come to Church, not only knowing each other by name, but by the crosses we carry, and have the guarantee that they will never be carried alone. That kind of accompaniment happens now, but let’s make it intentional as we move forward.”

In his introductory remarks, Bishop Caggiano took aim at the secular culture, which often forms people in the wrong values.

“Increasingly the secular culture is hostile to what we believe in and who we are. It is fundamentally different from the world I grew up in, and it has implications for every aspect of the Church’s life. If we’re not forming people, the secular culture is, and it is leading people further away from Jesus Christ.”

He said that getting back to basics is required at a time of great change and he urged people to focus on the message of the Kerygma, the one-line announcement of salvation, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”

The Kerygmatic message is ultimately liberating at a time when people are consumed with themselves and also y suffer from an absence of God in their lives. Many adults as well as young people feel that they are unloved and unlovable. “How many of us actually fully completely believe that God loves us without having to earn it or proving to be worthy of it?” he said.

Much of the bishop’s talk was focused on the challenge of catechesis and teaching the faith—not simply to the young but in the ongoing faith formation of adults.

The Bishop said that one commonality in all of the sessions held in deaneries throughout the diocese has been the need for adults to be more involved. He added that that there have been many efforts to renew the catechism since Vatican II, but they’ve often missed the mark.

“We’ve spent 55 years forming young people but haven’t spent 55 years forming adults. If you don’t form adults, how are they going to lead their children.”

The bishop said that faith must be experienced in community, not simply studied. “Just studying the material without a relationship with Christ is like studying trigonometry. We have to invite young people into a relationship with Jesus, and the parents are super important. This idea that religious formation is an academic enterprise does not work. We have to figure out new ways to do it.”

During the listening session that followed the bishop’s remarks, lay leaders came forward to the microphone in the center aisle to share their own faith experience, their concerns for young people, and their hope for the future.

One man said it is impossible to walk in to a protestant churches without being personally welcomed and invited, whereas Catholics do a poor job or welcoming newcomers and each other.

Another speaker said that focusing our relationship on Jesus is not simply personal but requires us to see Jesus in others, particularly migrants and others who may feel unwanted.

A young mother in attendances thanked Bishop Caggiano for speaking about Jesus and said she struggles as a parent to know if she is doing right and correctly raising her children in the faith.

“There are three things I ask of parents, you are witnesses of the faith. I want you to pray with your children every day, come to Mass every Sunday–not for their sake but for your sake–and I want you to live a life of virtue, showing our children what it means to be a Christian in action.”
The bishop concluded with an historical insight into the origins of Christianity and a message of hope.

He said that during life of St. Paul, who died 70 A.D., it is estimated that there were 5000 Christians in the entire world. By the time of Roman Emperor Constantine (306-337), an era of persecution, there were 36 million Christians. Noting that Christianity thrived in the face of adversity, he said he believes we may be approaching a similar era calling for heroic witness.

“This is our moment, the moment for the church to get back to the basics . We must have courage my friends. The best years of the Church are ahead of us.”

Bishop Caggiano said he will regroup with Fairfield pastors to discuss the meetings and move forward. The final regional meetings will be held in Stamford on March 9 at St .Leo’s Parish an in Greenwich on March 16. There is no need for registration.