October 9, 2009

Rural parishes challenged to reach out to larger community through actions

By John Shaughnessy

For Ruth Marchetti, there are two basic questions that pastors and parishioners should consider at every Catholic parish.

First, Marchetti asked, “When people think of your parish, would it be missed by the community and not just the Catholic community if it suddenly disappeared?”

Second, she continued, “What is the mark of your parish?”

Marchetti asked both questions as she led an Oct. 1 workshop on social ministry in rural parishes. The workshop was part of the kickoff conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for a yearlong social ministry renewal in the archdiocese that is known as SHINE—“Spreading Hope in Neighborhoods Everywhere.”

“Effective social ministry helps the parish not only do more, but also be more of a reflection of the Gospel,” said Marchetti, who serves as the peace coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y.

While Marchetti’s questions apply to all parishes, the emphasis of her workshop was on rural parishes and how they can rise to the challenge of reaching out to the larger community even as they deal with limited resources and members.

She offered a two-step approach to social ministry:

  • “Step out on the foot of charity that meets the needs of the poor and the vulnerable. Meet the poor face to face and be changed by our encounter with the face of Jesus.”
  • “Follow with the foot of advocacy. What are we called to do to change the injustices of a system that keeps people in poverty or in a state of oppression?”

She mentioned how one parish in the Rochester diocese held Lenten soup suppers to build community and also developed a ministry to offer assistance to migrant farm workers in the area.

Another parish tied social ministry to the faith formation of young people, using food drives, voter registration efforts and outreaches to the poor.

Jail ministry became the focus of a rural parish that worked with the local sheriff so that prisoners at the county jail could have access to the sacraments.

Another parish started a project to build wells and schools in Kenya, in the hometown of its associate pastor.

“Jesus was clear,” Marchetti said. “If we’re not feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, serving the poor or visiting the imprisoned, then we’re not being Jesus present in the world. That needs to be preached.” †

Local site Links: