As a recent convert to the Catholic faith, McKenna Eltzroth wanted to get more involved in her parish, St. Joseph in Bluffton.
“It’s really important for me to plant roots in the parish in Wells County,” Eltzroth, 21, of Liberty Center, said of attending the parish mission Dec. 7-9 at St. Joseph.
Fellow parishioners Barbara and Robert Whitacre, both age 73, of Berne, thought attending a parish mission would strengthen their prayer life, Barbara said. They also had met this year’s parish mission guest speaker, Father Stephen Felicichia, when he was a deacon at St. Joseph and thought he was a great preacher.
Parish missions provide an opportunity for connection and spiritual growth and renewal.
“It’s another chance, another offering, for parishioners to deepen their relationship with the Lord,” said Father David Violi, St. Joseph pastor.
Parish missions frequently invite parishioners and visitor to gather on three or four consecutive nights for prayer, worship and presentations by guest speakers. Missions often take place during seasons of preparation, such as Advent and Lent, but also are scheduled for other times of the year. There’s no set format.
“Missions are like most things: They are only limited by the imagination,” Father Violi said.
In 2019, for example, St. Joseph Parish held an Advent parish mission that featured different guest speakers on three different weekends, he said. This past December, St. Joseph’s parish mission adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic by offering both in-person attendance and a livestream on Facebook for people who couldn’t attend or who didn’t feel comfortable being there in person because of health concerns. Those who were interested also could view a recording of the livestream at a later time or re-watch mission events, Father Violi said.
The parish decided to have only one guest speaker this year, Father Felicichia, parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Wayne. He had served as deacon at St. Joseph and also stayed there last year between the date that his seminary closed in early 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and when he started his assignment at St. Elizabeth in late June.
Father Felicichia had an hour to speak the first night. The next two evenings, including the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, consisted mainly of Mass, with Father Felicichia giving the homily.
“It is not just a speaker you are listening to,” Father Violi said. “It is sacrificing. It is taking time out of your day to hear about the Lord.”
Father Felicichia’s presentation and homilies focused on the theme of God becoming man and the supernatural breaking into the natural world. Eltzroth, who attended the parish mission in person, said the talks made her feel at peace because they assured her there are divine forces working on behalf of mankind.
The Whitacres participated virtually because of coronavirus concerns, the more than 10-mile drive one-way from home to church, and their desire to avoid driving at night, Barbara said. Watching online worked well for them.
Taking part in parish missions helps them grow spiritually and to remember things they have been taught over the years, she said. They also enjoyed praying the rosary, which keeps them strong in their faith and reminds them of the mysteries in God’s life, she added.
Attending a parish mission provides “a kind of recharge,” said Father Francis Chukwuma, pastor of St. John Bosco Parish in Churubusco and Immaculate Conception Parish in Ege. “The glow of the lamp, it sometimes gets a little dim.”
St. John Bosco offered a parish mission during Lent 2019 and Immaculate Conception began a mission in March 2020. The latter was cut short by one day because of state restrictions on public gatherings at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Father Chukwuma said both parishes started planning their missions about a year ahead. The process included looking at each parish’s needs and vision and making plans to address those topics during the mission.
As part of each parish mission, he said, parishioners also were asked to do a self-assessment and to ask themselves what they will do to help the parish and to be a witness of faith to others.
After each mission, people who attended seemed more welcoming to others, Father Chukwuma said.
A number of other parishes had parish missions planned for last year but canceled or postponed them because of coronavirus risk or health restrictions.
With hope that coronavirus vaccines soon will end the pandemic, St. John and Immaculate Conception parishes plan to focus this year on getting people back to Mass and to parish life rather than to plan a parish mission, Father Chukwuma said.
St. Joseph hopes to hold a mission this year during Lent, Father Violi said.
“We don’t know yet what it will look like,” he added.
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