Pairing parishes yields understanding, advances mission

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by Peter Feuerherd

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Editor's note: "The Field Hospital" blog series covers life in U.S. and Canadian Catholic parishes. The title comes from Pope Francis' words: "I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. …"

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A national mission conference in Cincinnati scheduled for Oct. 28-30 will explore the role of twinning U.S. parishes with overseas mission churches.

The twinning concept provides for congregations to share resources, prayer, visits, knowledge and friendships in a two-way exchange.

Among them is Immaculate Conception Church in Celina, Ohio, which twins with parishes in the La Labor region of Guatemala.

Mark R. Giesige, a member of the parish, is also in charge of mission advancement for the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which supports twinning efforts.

He told NCR that parishes in Ohio, and across the U.S., have benefited from mission twinning relationships.

"Once it catches hold, it can really energize a parish," said Giesige. Parish twinners emphasize avoiding the pitfall that the role of American parishes is solely to provide material assistance to their poorer partners, complete with advice on how things should be done.

"When we go on a mission trip, everyone asks, 'What are we going to do?' And I tell them, 'We're not going to do. We're going to be,' " said Giesige. "Often the real work of those who go on these trips begins when they get home, to spread the word to others about all the things they have seen and heard."

On first trips, there are a lot of comments on differences. But afterwards the relationship can deepen.

"As time goes on, those comments [about differences] fade and conversation turns instead to an appreciation for the new culture," he said.

A similar experience has developed among parishioners at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Cincinnati, according to Sue Keefe, a parishioner involved in twinning with the Batahola Norte Cultural Center in Managua, Nicaragua, since 2000. The parish also partners with Our Lady of the Mountains Parish in Stanton, Ky.

Each year, the staff of the parish visits Nicaragua, and there is a parish trip as well, involving up to 28 parishioners. Archbishop McNicholas High School, also in Cincinnati, sends regular groups as well.

The twinning experience has had an impact on Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, says Keefe, a speaker at the mission conference in October.

The parish has instituted a Spanish language Mass; an annual Mission Sunday multicultural Mass, and, in preparation for their annual trip, parishioners visit SuCasa, the archdiocesan Hispanic Center in Cincinnati. There they talk with Latinos in the region about their lives in Ohio and Nicaragua, among other Latin American countries.

"I have always said that we are building relationships when we visit each other. We are not building houses," said Keefe.

Parishioners bid farewell to a south Jersey church, as the final Sunday Mass there is celebrated.

It's back to school time -- yes, in some parts of the country school has been opened for nearly a month, but in the northeast we take our time -- and parish catechesis programs are opening for the year as well. Here's one in the St. Louis archdiocese. In the Superior Diocese in Wisconsin, the focus of catechesis will be on ritual this year. What would Pope Francis say? Don't think the pontiff spends a whole lot of time talking about the subject.

Iowa copes with parish closings, which are having an impact on rural and small town life.

A new pastor comes to St. Paul's Church in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He is ready to soothe divisions after the controversial tenure of the former pastor, who among other things compared Obamacare to Nazism during a homily. Yellow Springs, located in the Cincinnati archdiocese, is noted for its bohemian, liberal reputation in an otherwise conservative rural southwestern Ohio region.

Parishioners in Ferguson. Mo., pray the rosary regularly for peace and reconciliation in their town, which became known around the country for anything but peace during the disturbances around the killing of Michael Brown by police Aug. 9, 2014.

A pastor in the Orlando diocese in Florida is accused of taking money from a widow to pay for restaurant meals and chocolates, among other items, from a fund that was supposed to be used for the parish.

An unusual alliance: The American Civil Liberties Union comes to the aid of a Florida parish that runs into trouble with its town for feeding the homeless. The pastor argues that the soup kitchen mission is central to religious freedom.

[Peter Feuerherd is a correspondent for NCR's Field Hospital series on parish life and a professor of journalism at St. John's University, New York.]

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