Renewal is a word that brings to mind a rebirth, a reawakening of something laid dormant for too long. Sometimes, that still, small voice within encourages and calls one to go deeper, to move closer to becoming the best version of oneself. Renewal can mean many things: progression, transformation, rejuvenation, and conversion. It can mean becoming more involved in the parish life, meeting people who encourage each other toward greater spiritual heights.
Renewal is the very heart of Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP).
For several decades, the Holy Spirit has been quietly renewing hearts and parishes across the nation and within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend through the CRHP process.
The process begins by attending a renewal weekend. Many who have attended describe the weekend as a uniquely and powerfully transformative experience for their faith and their life.
“My Christ Renews His Parish experience helped me to not sweat the small stuff as much and reset the priorities in my life, which are God and family,” explained Brad Barondeau, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Wayne. “I learned how to get to know people on a deeper level, become a better listener, be a little more empathetic to the struggles that others face, and how to best support them. This led me to form a strong brotherhood with the men of my team, which in turn strengthened my Catholic faith and my involvement in the parish and the wider community.”
While the renewal weekend can be thought of as a miniature retreat, it is different from many other retreats. It’s an opportunity to step away from the pressures, concerns, and distractions of the world and spend some time getting back into what matters most: allowing the Holy Spirit to strengthen one’s Catholic faith and form strong bonds with brothers or sisters in Christ. It can be thought of as a weekend of becoming a bit less Martha, who worriedly rushed and toiled at her tasks, and a bit more Mary, who quietly sat and listened at the feet of Jesus.
In parishes where CRHP is present, renewal weekends are typically held twice a year. To avoid potential distractions that can arise, renewal weekends are held separately for both men and women, often a few weeks apart.
Attendees of the weekend spend time with a team of men or women who themselves have been transformed by CRHP and have a desire to share that transformative experience with their brothers and sisters in faith.
The weekends begin on Saturday morning and end Sunday afternoon. They are structured to encourage attendees and team members to get to know each other in ways that help form relationships that last long after the weekend ends. Scripture, prayer, and reception of the sacraments are interwoven throughout the weekend.
After the weekend concludes, attendees are asked to join the team that will be formed in preparation to present the next renewal weekend for a new group of men or women. Many who have joined a team and participated in this formation process have described it as the truly transformative part of CRHP. During the time of formation, the team meets regularly to dive deeper into Scripture study, prayer, sharing, and strengthening of the bonds that were formed on their renewal weekend, bonds that often last for the rest of their lives.
During his time as Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Father Jim Shafer credited the Holy Spirit acting through the CRHP process as a principal reason for the faithful stewardship and strong involvement at the parish. An ardent supporter, Father Shafer regularly participated in renewal weekends at the parish. Current Pastor Father Terry Coonan has continued this support and will be involved in the upcoming renewal weekends at the parish this fall.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner John Haines spoke of the impact the weekend had on his faith life. “The most significant takeaway for me from my Christ Renews His Parish experience was that it allowed me to reflect deeply on how I was living my life, and specifically on how I was doing on our first priority as Christians — achieving eternal salvation,” he said. “It caused me to really think about the personal relationship I had with our Lord and to refocus on what I was doing in my daily prayer life to build that relationship, which is the best way to say, ‘I love you’ to Christ.”
To Doug Anderson of the aforementioned parish, his renewal weekend was “the vehicle that started me on my path to recovery from my addiction. God used the Christ Renews His Parish process to play a big part in putting my life back together and saving my marriage and family.”
In some parishes, CRHP is now known as Welcome. This name change reflects updates and improvements in the format of both the initial retreat weekend and the formation process. It can be thought of as “CRHP 2.0,” which includes all the best parts of the original CRHP process experience but is even more dynamic, engaging, and transformative. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is one of the parishes that will be rolling out the new Welcome program this fall. Many other parishes around the diocese host fall weekends; check local bulletins for renewal dates.
“…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” – Eph. 4:23
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