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The keystone of our yearlong celebration of RENEW International’s 40th anniversary was the Monsignors Thomas Kleissler and Thomas Ivory Symposium on Parish Renewal held on Thursday, April 19 at Seton Hall University.
The symposium was named to honor the two dedicated priests who founded RENEW through a deep faith commitment, a willingness to take a risk, and holy innovation. We at RENEW are determined to continue their legacy of parish renewal and revitalization in today’s cultural context.
I was so moved when I entered the large conference room and saw it not only brimming with a variety of people—priests, deacons, pastoral staff and lay leaders—but also with energy and enthusiasm. It was so hopeful!
Chris Lowney, one of our speakers, talked about the grim facts of the decline of church membership, not to keep us stuck in the muck of despair, but to awaken us to reality so that we commit ourselves to change. The metaphor of the “burning platform” is often used in business to illustrate the commitment needed for organizational change. When we recognize that the “platform is burning” it can engender greater commitment to jump into change. Transforming and revitalizing our parishes becomes not a good thing to do but a matter critical to the faith of the next generation. We have no choice. The risk of maintaining the status quo is way too high—the irrelevancy of the Catholic parish in the United States.
The day began with prayer and song and then moved to the keynote by Bill Simon, author of Great Catholic Parishes, who set the framework for the day. He spoke of the four foundational practices for a thriving parish: great parishes share leadership, great parishes foster spirituality and plan for discipleship, great parishes excel on Sunday, and great parishes evangelize. Bill’s talk was followed by presentations by four panelists, each addressing one of the foundational practices.
Chris Lowney, author of Everyone Leads, called us to be leaders and innovators. I spoke on the power of small groups to deepen faith and discipleship. Fr. Bismark Chau, pastor of a multi-cultural parish in Newark, New Jersey, exhorted us to open the doors of the church and make Sundays a spirit-filled experience through relevant homilies, good music, and warm hospitality. Leisa Anslinger, director of Catholic Life and Faith, addressed how to intentionally evangelize young people, taking her cue from a study called Growing the Church Young, a study by the Fuller Youth Institute. Leisa explored two of the “six essential strategies” identified in the study: empathizing—that is, seeing the world from the viewpoint of young people, and making young people a top priority.
Throughout the day, the participants shared faith, hopes, ideas, and action plans to make their parishes great.
The day concluded with Evening Prayer. The Easter music lifted our spirits, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s homily inspired us to look to the future with faith and a renewed vision. In his homily, Cardinal Tobin connected his reflections on the Scripture to Fr. Tom Ivory and Fr. Tom Kleissler as leaders who were a step ahead. The cardinal presented each of them with two gifts. The first one was an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis; the second was a framed personal note from him—a note he signed, “your brother Joseph.” Cardinal Tobin is a giant of a man and to see him kneeling before Fr. Tom Kleissler, frail but still with a giant spirit, was an overwhelming moment for me.
Fr. Tom Kleissler often reminds me that while RENEW has had a great impact on the Church, what is important now is what great things RENEW can do to transform the Church for the future. So look ahead to the next new innovative parish resource RENEW is developing to reach out to young people, because we are moving Forward at Forty!
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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St John Parish Bedford South AfricaShanty houses made of corrugated iron sheets offer an unpleasant welcome to visitors to Bedford, South Africa. Almost all the houses are run down and there is very little greenery. In recent years, the Afrikaans-speaking township experienced a severe drought that lasted for two years. The only drinking water came in by tanker trucks. The bare brown soil begs for the rain’s attention.

Mini, Rosie, and Angie were the only remaining members of a once numerous Catholic Women’s League in St. John Parish, part of the Diocese of Port Elizabeth. Their primary activity involved running a food pantry, striving to stave off starvation for families in Bedford with no source of income. Although their treasury was empty, the women did not give up. They continued to run the soup kitchen, and they continued to pray. Their prayers were answered when a woman who had participated in a RENEW Africa workshop asked to join the CWL. That day marked a turnaround for the group—other women began to join the CWL, and the league’s treasury began accepting donations, including help from other CWL groups in the diocese.

Mini, Rosie, and Angie began hosting RENEW Africa workshops in October 2007. These women put pitchers of fresh water on each table for every RENEW Africa meeting, and prepared tea and sandwiches for participants. There was no mention of the difficulties involved because of the severe drought that plagued the region for two years. For the closing prayer of the workshop, all gathered in a circle with Rosie, Mini, and Angie in the center and prayed for their needs and for rain for the area.

However, their difficulties were not over. Despite the great enthusiasm they expressed for small Christian communities at the workshops, no one joined RENEW Africa. Undaunted, the five women who made up the CWL formed their own small Christian community. As they continued with the process and reflected on how to reach out, they decided to begin home visits.

At each house, they introduced themselves and asked if they might visit for a while. During the exchange they became more aware of the various needs of the families and offered to pray with their hosts. As they continued their visitation, word got around that they brought compassion and understanding, and that they were very discreet. One day, a deacon from a Protestant Church approached them. “Please come to my house. I want to talk to you.” When asked why, he replied, “I am having family problems, and I can’t talk about them in my parish. I’ve heard that you are very helpful and that you can keep things in confidence.”

Mini, Angie, and Rosie are striking witnesses of women’s strength. In the midst of poverty and deprivation, even in the midst of obstacles to the ministry of evangelization through small Christian communities, they carry on. More importantly, they evangelize by their witness and by their dedication to announcing the Good News in whatever way God leads them. These women show us how to live our baptism in the world today: they stand firm in their commitment to Christ and live it by reaching out to others without judgment, demonstrating God’s unconditional love for all. The women’s dedication is surpassed only by their wisdom, faith, and courage in the face of difficulty.

Sister Marie is a member of the RENEW staff, a Sister of St. Joseph of Cluny, and the Project Leader for RENEW Africa.

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We have good news to share about being faith-filled citizens and going out and making disciples!
The California Legislative Network (CLN) is an on-line organizational vehicle that was started four years ago by the bishops of California. The CLN enables registered members to become informed and to act on the important issues affecting their state. A person who registers on the website receives a weekly educational tool called Public Policy that includes a brief overview of the week’s happenings in Sacramento and Washington, DC, as well as information about how the bishops feel these events relate to Catholic teachings. Registrants also receive periodic alerts asking them to express their positions on crucial issues to their legislators.
Bishops throughout California established a Life and Dignity Sunday in every diocese to educate and register Catholics for the network. In response to the social justice focus of Season 3 of ARISE Together in Christ from RENEW International, Bishop Blaire of Stockton, CA decided to connect Stockton’s registration to CLN with the registration for ARISE Season 3. Life and Dignity Sunday was scheduled to occur in all parishes in the diocese on the weekend of November 5-6, 2011.
During their training, ARISE small Christian community leaders were given a short explanation and shown a seven-minute video that included an invitation from Bishop Blaire. The leaders were also given materials to share with their members in order to encourage registration in CLN. For Stockton, Life and Dignity Sunday was an opportunity to signup ARISE and non-ARISE participants alike. The ARISE leaders would be pivotal in ensuring a successful diocese-wide registration.
In January 2012, Rich Fowler, Bishop Blaire’s delegate for special projects, visited with the ARISE small Christian community leaders to give a report on how well the parishes had implemented the diocesan social justice initiative the previous November. The average per-parish registration in all the dioceses of California was 200. Stockton, which is by far the smallest diocese, had an average per-parish registration of 267! A total of over 10,000 people registered.
Rich thanked all the participants and shared that he believes the success was due to the ARISE small-group leaders bringing this awareness to their groups and taking an active role in the Life and Dignity Sunday in their respective parishes. The affirmation for the parishes is that there are now have more than 10,000 new disciples who are making the connection between their call to discipleship and their role as faith-filled citizens!


Sr. Maureen P. Colleary, FSP is on the Pastoral Services team at RENEW International and a Franciscan Sister of Peace.

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RENEW International and ARISE Together in Christ reached out to help the Boston Church. The initiative brought together all aspects of the Archdiocese, from the Pastoral Center to schools, campuses, nursing homes, and prisons. It connected the Archdiocesan offices and ministries of Boston, giving them better tools to communicate with their parishioners and themselves. Workshops have been offered in English, Spanish, and Portuguese and materials translated into six languages to better reach participants of all backgrounds.

RENEW International helped divide Boston parishes into small communities where people can celebrate and collectively share their faith. Participants have experienced renewed hope, found peace through their strengthened belief, and forged strong relationships with others and God. They experience the joys and strength of shared spirituality and gain a greater understanding of what it means to be Catholic. ARISE Together in Christ has reached more than 30,000 individuals and breathed new life into over 170 Boston-area parishes. Word of this program’s success is spreading to parishes across the country and beyond its borders, bringing much-needed healing and spiritual renewal to Catholics everywhere.

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