The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) holds a key function to provide reflection and input to the Cardinal from the perspective of Catholics throughout the Archdiocese. The APC consists of representatives from parishes throughout Cook and Lake counties. APC members are active in their parishes and deaneries. They contribute input received from local discussions as well as their own perspectives. Further, input is provided by standing committees of the APC that meet prior to the APC’s General meeting.
Cardinal Francis George met with the APC at its general meeting on Saturday, March 23, 2013 at the Archbishop Quigley Pastoral Center. The APC discussed the Cardinal’s third issue for the 2012‐2013 fiscal year. The third year of the Archdiocese’s Strategic Pastoral Plan will focus on fostering deep connections with parents, particularly when they present their children for sacraments. In connection with such efforts, how can parishes help parents to raise their children in the Catholic faith?
Based on feedback collected from parishes across the Archdiocese and the written reports from the APC’s Archdiocesan Life Committee, Spiritual Life Committee and Catholic Education Committee, three recommended areas of priority emerged. These three areas are: 1. Sunday Mass attendance as a Family Unit; 2. Parental involvement is needed in religious education programs and sacramental preparation for Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation, and 3. Extended Family and Parish Community Support.
Sunday Mass Attendance as a Family Unit
There is an old saying “The family that prays together, stays together”. Encourage families to regularly attend Sunday Mass as a unit. Congregations have to recognize that passing on the faith means welcoming families to any weekend Mass. Parishes should plan a “Family Mass” on a regular basis. At the “Family Mass” families would serve as greeters, altar servers, lectors, gift bearers, Eucharistic Ministers and choir members. Occasional hospitality after “Family Mass” would encourage families to get to know each other, especially if the parish does not have a Catholic School. Other family activities could also be scheduled after “Family Mass”.
In addition to regular Sunday Mass attendance, Religious Education and Catholic School programs should encourage and foster opportunities for additional Mass participation which may include Holy Days of obligation. Extracurricular activities, i.e., sports, scouts, school clubs, that are sponsored by parishes or Catholic organizations should set a good example and plan for the group to attend Sunday Mass, particularly if these activities are away from home. Sponsoring sporting activities at Catholic venues during the Sunday Mass schedule should be discouraged. Children should not have to choose between sports practice/games and Sunday Mass.
Parental Involvement is Needed in Religious Education Programs and Sacramental Preparation for Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation
At one parish, a program called “Parent Letters” begins at Baptism. The program is initiated with the first child in the family who is baptized. “Parent Letters” are based on the development of the child from birth to three years old. Every six months a letter is sent to the family based on physical milestones that offer opportunities for early Catholic faith formation. After three years of age, an invitation to participate in preschool is made with the hope that this is a firm foundation for further catechesis and the reception of the sacraments.
Another parish’s “Ambassador Program” consists of a group of volunteers who are assigned to parents when they present their child for Baptism. The Ambassadors follow that family through Confirmation. Meeting with the family on a regular basis and encouraging them, offering materials, and staying in touch results in a sort of mentoring program to that family to help their faith formation.
The Archdiocese needs a universal program for all Religious Education and Sacramental programs whether the program is done as part of a Catholic school program or as a religious education program for non‐Catholic school students. All sacramental programs must require Mass participation in order to develop appropriate behavior during liturgy. Mass attendance could be monitored by a “Mass pass” received by the student from the priest at the conclusion of the Mass. This universal program would include some mandatory parent participation whether its parent workshops, parent meetings, retreats, side by side classroom participation or homework/reflections that would keep parents connected to the course of study and extend the experience at home with their children.
Some parishes have offered various opportunities to assist parents to help them avoid frustration and being hesitant in sharing the faith with their child(ren). In addition to their physical presence at gatherings, opportunities must include 21st century communication. This communication includes website information including Archchicago.org, interactive websites, blogs, Facebook, twitter, CDs and DVDs. Of course, traditional printed materials and resources should also be made available.
Extended Family and Parish Community Support
Extended family and Parish Community support can offer intergenerational opportunities to help parents raise their children in the Catholic faith. In addition to grandparents supporting their own grandchildren’s faith preparation, parishes could establish a Grandparent’s mentor program similar to Big Sisters/Big Brothers. The second Sunday in September is Grandparents Day. Use that holiday designation as an opportunity for Grandparents to befriend parish families who may not have grandparents or grandparents in the area. Use a hospitality weekend as an opportunity to unite family units together.
The broader parish community can reach out to parents about the sacramental programs with a telephone calling program. A parishioner volunteer can telephone and ask parents “How is it going?” “Are you satisfied with what your child is learning?” If the parent is unsure s/he can be asked “What can we do to help you as well?” Church staff can follow‐up in an appropriate manner.
Instead of the parishioners only hearing an audio of the Cardinal at the Annual Catholic Appeal, the Cardinal should prepare an additional three messages each year focusing on Reconciliation, First Holy Communion and Confirmation. The three annual audios could then be played according to the individual Parish’s sacrament schedule. The audio message would be played at all parish Masses so that the congregation would have a heightened awareness of the sacraments. Homilies and bulletin articles about the upcoming sacramental schedule should be encouraged. Listing the names of sacramental recipients in the bulletin should also be encouraged. One to two weeks after the children have received a sacrament, the children and their parents should be recognized from the pulpit to stand at their place and have a round of applause by the congregation. Hospitality could follow each Mass so that the parish can affirm their support for the receipt of the sacrament.
It’s only as an Archdiocese working together among clergy, staff and laity that children of the 21st century will deepen the conviction of their Catholic faith to better empower them to pass on their legacy to their children.