By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Bishop Thomas Zinkula encouraged members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council to initiate dialogue in their parishes on the issue of racism and to promote small faith-sharing groups to foster discipleship as part of the Vision 20/20 initiative.
The DPC, which met via Zoom video conferencing Aug. 15, also discussed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on celebration of the Mass and in-person attendance, recognizing that some people are staying home until the health crisis has abated.
In early June, Bishop Zinkula received an email from a young man inquiring whether students in the diocese receive teaching on anti-racism. The young man believes age-appropriate pedagogy on this issue should be implemented at every level.
Bishop Zinkula consulted members of his diocesan leadership team, which led to further conversations about how to encourage discussions on racism and racial justice throughout the diocese. In mid-June, the bishop asked the clergy in the six diocesan deaneries to discuss “Open Wide Our Hearts,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter on racism, and an accompanying study guide.
Meanwhile, diocesan directors identified steps for moving forward, such as raising awareness of efforts underway in parishes and communities to address racism, and promoting small-group discussions in the chancery to explore the issue.
Bishop Zinkula asked DPC members for their thoughts about fostering anti-racism efforts. Suggestions included a Zoom lecture series focusing on Catholic Social Teaching on the issue, a prayer vigil, and catechesis in religious education programs and schools.
“We need to reflect on what’s going on in our own hearts and minds,” the bishop said. The challenge is engaging people “who don’t hear Jesus’ message” as it relates to racial justice. Laypeople could take the initiative in their own parishes to organize anti-racism efforts. “Part of it is listening, having compassion,” DPC President Carol Kaalberg said.
Five months (and counting) of the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed plans to go out and build on discipleship that follows from efforts to foster missionary discipleship within oneself. Bishop Zinkula refers to these two aspects of Vision 2/20 as “being” and “doing.” He believes the pandemic has created an opportunity to practice the “being” aspect. Both aspects are essential elements of the Vision 20/20 mission to “fill every heart and life with the joy of the Gospel through a fresh encounter with Jesus Christ and His Church.”
“Maybe this is God’s grace, slowing us down to lay the foundation for evangelization,” Bishop Zinkula said. “This can help us to grow (as disciples) through prayer, knowledge and also to learn to talk about faith better with others.”
The bishop described a project that deacon candidate Ryan Burchett has developed for small-group dialogue on discipleship. Groups will participate in prayer, education and faith formation and discussion. The bishop encourages parish councils, mentors, teachers, catechists, evangelization teams — and everyone — to form small groups for dialogue on discipleship. “Maybe this is a way to get people involved in church who aren’t coming back to Mass. It gives them an option,” a DPC member said.
Absent from Mass
Several DPC members expressed concern about Catholics not returning to Mass, even though the diocese resumed public celebration of the Mass in late June. “We need to have something to pull them back,” Kaalberg said.
Safety restrictions remain in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which affects the liturgy. People are developing different habits. They are not in the habit of going to church, the bishop said. “As the virus becomes less of a threat, we want to invite people back, make an effort to begin inviting people to attend Mass again.”
The uncertainty about the pandemic forces everyone, including church leaders, “to try to figure it out as we go,” the bishop said. He asked DPC members to share their thoughts about reconnecting people to the church.
Kaalberg said the cluster she serves in Hills, Lone Tree and Nichols sends a bulletin to every household to keep lines of communication open. Sharon Crall said her parishes in Albia and Georgetown have an active Facebook page; communication through email also helps.
Father Rich Adam, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, looks forward to the start of a family oriented virtual religious education program in the parish, which the diocesan Faith Formation office developed. “This may be one of the good things that comes out of the pandemic — at-home catechesis,” Father Adam said. Bishop Zinkula said the Faith Formation office worked hard to develop a variety of religious education options for parishes and families.
Clara Oleson of West Branch said the view from the pew must be considered. Throughout the pandemic, priests have been able to celebrate Mass and receive the Eucharist, even when laity could not, she said. Now, older Catholics, like herself, are encouraged not to attend Mass for their safety during the pandemic. Viewing live streamed or videotaped Masses instead of celebrating the Mass in person and receiving the Eucharist “is not particularly helpful” for older women like herself grieving that loss. Father Thom Hennen, the diocese’s vicar general and chaplain of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, said Oleson raised excellent points. “We have to be careful not to become so used to this new normal that it becomes normal. We have to keep that vision of where we want to be and strive for that,” he said.
Oleson asked about the possibility of allowing extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist to resume taking Communion to the homebound. Bishop Zinkula said he and his advisors are reviewing guidelines, including taking the Eucharist to the homebound.