This fall, Catholic Charities gathered with parishioners across every deanery in our diocese, hosted graciously by local parishes for a morning or an afternoon together, to delve into the foundational social teachings of the Catholic Church.
The gatherings were known as Parish Engagement and Charity Events (PEACE).
It was truly a joy to spend time with parishioners for a time of formation, networking and learning together.
Moving through Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, we together laid a foundation for the “what,” “how,” and “why” of parish social ministry.
As the idea for these gatherings took root among our staff, we pored over materials and prayed for those who would attend.
We prepared and organized the three-hour gathering that we hoped would teach, inspire, encourage and equip parishioners who lead their parish, their parish social ministries or simply hold a curiosity about the teachings we often call the Church’s “best kept secret.”
In the 2021 pastoral letter, “A Steward’s Journey: Our Call to Greater Communion,” our bishop made known his desire for the faithful to experience their local Catholic parish as a center of charity and a sanctuary of mercy.
Throughout the diocesan pastoral plan, the subsidiary deanery plans, and even into the local parish plans — the need to increase the parish’s ability to be known as a place of care, where people and their neighbors can go to give and receive help, is evident.
These needs are made tangible in the many calls for assistance that parishes receive.
In many parishes, the parish secretary and social minister receive requests to help with retaining housing through rent assistance, with the need for funds to keep the air conditioning on in the summer or heat in the winter, with a need for food assistance to keep their families fed.
In the face of these needs, we see again and again the faithful’s desire to reach out in service of their neighbor.
According to our pre- and post-event surveys, 92% of respondents noted that their attendance to the PEACE event increased their awareness of Catholic social teachings, with 93% of them also agreeing that the PEACE event helped solidify how those Church teachings apply to their own parish’s charitable efforts.
Alongside formation in the social doctrine of the Church, we saw the great value of connecting-the-dots of social ministry from parish to parish.
Seated at tables of three or four people, our attendees spent time in discussion, often sharing thriving ministry experiences at their own parish or hurdles to growing their parish’s capacity to serve.
With the backdrop of the Church’s call to help our neighbors and the awareness of existing ministries, we shared with attendees an overview of the Charity and Mercy grants available to support that growth in local communities.
“This event really opened my eyes to what charity means and how to apply it to my parish and in my personal relationship with God,” wrote one of our attendees.
Another shared, “Today’s Parish Engagement and Charity Event affirmed Catholic Charities’ and the diocese’s commitment to social outreach and charity.”
As we think about our efforts to increase networking and formation opportunities for those involved in parish social ministry, Catholic Charities Parish Ambassadors, and the faithful who are renewing their commitments to serve within their parishes during the Catholic Stewardship Renewal, we keep this at the forefront of our vision: parishes thriving as Centers of Charity and Mercy.
I hope you’ll find a way to join us in 2024, as we bring PEACE events throughout the deaneries and closer to you!
Ashley Wiskirchen is the Senior Director of Communications at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. Having participated in Catholic social teaching formation opportunities in her time at Catholic Charities, her desire to see that formation reach local parishes has taken root in the Parish Engagement and Charity Events initiative in the Diocese of Jefferson City. Alongside colleague Tori Baker and dedicated volunteer Paul Crnkovich (who currently serves the Columbia Newman Center as Director of Adult Faith Formation), these events blossomed across the diocese this fall, with plans to expand reach in 2024.