March 3, 2023

Family life offers a continuing lesson in accompaniment for new leader

By John Shaughnessy

On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, popcorn and several varieties of candy served as luring cards when Paul and Alexa Sifuentes gathered their children to talk about what everyone was planning to do for Lent.

Among the sacrifices that family members vowed to try to do is one that is particularly hard for Paul Sifuentes, the new executive director of pastoral ministries for the archdiocese.

As one way of fasting, the father of six has agreed that when he gets home from work, he will turn over his smart phone to their oldest child, 12-year-old Luke, who then puts it away for the rest of the day.

While limiting the use of “screens”—phones, tablets, computers and television—in his personal time is “definitely the hardest” challenge for him, Sifuentes says it opens up more time to focus on his children, to have better conversations with his wife, and have more time for God.

While other family members are doing different kinds of fasting, they are all sharing a common approach to almsgiving.

“Each of our family members is going to write a letter each week to someone who we feel needs a letter,” he says. “Alexa and I have one grandparent who’s living, and we have some other people we know who could use a letter. We’ll help the kids write a letter or draw a picture and send it.”

As for prayer, “we do night prayer together often. We do a lot of chanting in our night prayer. The kids really like to chant.”

Sifuentes views fasting, almsgiving and praying as a family during Lent as an act of accompaniment.

He believes that focus on accompanying each other mirrors the approach he sees in the staffs of the pastoral ministries who serve the Catholics in central and southern Indiana—in Youth Ministry, Intercultural Ministry, Young Adult and College Campus Ministry, the Office of Human Life and Dignity, and the Office of Marriage and Family Life.

“One of the reasons I’m very excited about being executive director here is that we have a wonderful team of great ministers,” he says. “I see my role as helping them do their ministry. I am by no means the expert in what their individual ministries are, but I think I can help clear away obstacles, help overcome challenges and help build relationships that further and multiply their ministries.”

He also feels blessed that his wife Alexa has a long history in ministry for the Church.

“There are many things I ask her opinion on,” he says. “In terms of being a minister, there are many things she’s better at than I am. I’ve learned from her, and I rely on her.”

He’s also learned about accompaniment from being a dad.

“Would I say I do it perfectly? No. But I think every day I learn a tiny tad more about how to accompany somebody, how to walk alongside them, how to gently ask questions and listen, and how to ask for forgiveness when I step on a foot while I’m accompanying them.

“Pope Francis talks about the family being a training place for missionary disciples. And how critical it is to live in community, to do ministry, to be a people of God. The family is that.”

He smiles and says, “I got plenty of family to teach me that.” †


Related story: The love of a woman and the love of God reveal the heart of the new leader of pastoral ministries

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