Bishop supports formation of Emmaus groups


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

As he talks about the new Emmaus initiative during the latest Catholic Messenger Conversations podcast, Bishop Thomas Zinkula says his heart is burning within him.

He is referring to Luke’s Gospel story that inspired the Emmaus initiative. Two dejected disciples of the martyred Christ are walking on the Road to Emmaus when they unexpectedly encounter him, risen from the dead. They do not recognize him until he breaks bread with them. Then he vanishes and they ask, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] when he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Hearts burning to share faith with others. “That’s what we want. That’s what I want for everyone in the diocese,” Bishop Zinkula says in the podcast recorded last week at St. Ambrose University radio station KALA. He invites adult Catholics to form small, faith-sharing “Emmaus groups” to make that happen. You can find details about how to do that on the diocesan website (


The Emmaus initiative grew out of Vision 20/20, the centerpiece of the bishop’s episcopacy to foster a revitalization of faith and a renewal of grace in the spirit of Pentecost.

“So we came up with the small group idea,” he said, referring to a proposal of deacon candidate Ryan Burchett, which the two shaped and then fine-tuned with the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee. They discovered that Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, had already developed a small faith-sharing group concept called Discipleship Quads. They chose to use that model in the Davenport Diocese under the name Emmaus group.

Participants can organize or create an Emmaus group for English-speaking or Spanish-speaking Catholics. Priests, deacons, parish council members, parishioners, friends, spouses, and even people who do not know each other are invited to join.
Catholic school principals are participating in Emmaus groups and so is Burchett. His group of four men of different ages and backgrounds belongs to St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. He knew the others but had never had a deep conversation with any one of them. “It’s been really fruitful to get to know these guys on a spiritual level,” Burchett said.

Bishop Zinkula recalls that as a young priest in the Archdiocese of Dubuque 30 years ago he joined a small faith-sharing group. “I didn’t know anyone. I was amazed at how deeply they shared.”

Emmaus groups meet for 46 sessions, with participants determining the frequency — once a week, once every other week or some other time frame. Prior to their in-person or virtual gatherings, they read assigned Scripture and respond to reflection questions to share with the group. Prayer, Scripture and conversation are essential components of the faith-sharing experience. “The ideal is sharing life in a community, where authentic relationships develop, growing closer to Jesus in a group,” Bishop Zinkula said.

When the Emmaus group completes the 46 sessions, each participant chooses three more people to form another group, and so it grows. “That is the ideal. Paul (the apostle) started a community and then moved on.” Participation in an Emmaus group provides an opportunity to “do more to grow in our faith, reflecting on Scripture, reading; it’s ongoing formation, calling us to conversion.”

All of the Emmaus group materials are free to download online ( Consider starting or joining an Emmaus group during Advent. Please fill out the quick
form on the diocesan website ( to let the diocese know you are getting started.

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