With new parishes being formed in Christchurch diocese, leadership teams are being formed and communities are actively seeking ways to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the wider community. Overseas expertise is being engaged to help in this process.
Christchurch diocese evangelisation coordinator Matt O’Connell told NZ Catholic that a small group of Christchurch diocesan pastoral staff are currently undertaking the “Called and Gifted Spiritual Gifts Discernment Programme”, offered by the US-based Catherine of Siena Institute, which is available online.
Once this has been completed, it is planned that a group of parish leaders will be invited to undertake the Ananias Training Course, also offered by the Catherine of Siena Institute, and soon to be available online, Mr O’Connell said.
According to the institute’s website, Ananias Training is a 17-hour process structured in five sessions, designed to form parishioners with no previous training in “the art of spiritual accompaniment”. The training uses Scripture reflections, video, and facilitated discussions to form “Ananiases”, after the disciple who was asked by God to lay hands on Saul, filling him with the Holy Spirit, restoring his sight and transforming him into the apostle now known as St Paul.
According to a recent article on the Colorado Springs Diocese in the US, “Ananias Training” incorporates concepts of evangelisation that Ms Weddell, co-founder and executive director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, presented in her 2012 book, “Forming Intentional Disciples” .
A structured process is used “to build up disciples and knock down barriers that prevent people from reaching out to others, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them”.
“Specifically, the Ananias Training introduces ‘thresholds of conversion’, or spiritual stages through which people journey to discipleship, and teaches participants how to have threshold conversations with others. The components also include how to tell ‘The Great Story of Jesus’ (the kerygma) and how to share one’s own story, tailored to any particular situation or encounter.”
The training has been very well received in several dioceses in the US, according to reports, with comments of how the training has enabled ordinary Catholics to meet others “where they are”, to listen and give full attention to others, and to initiate spiritual conversations with people of many different beliefs and backgrounds.
Mr O’Connell said that, once the Ananias Training has been completed in Christchurch diocese for those mentioned above, “we would together complete the 8-hour leaders training module, once it is offered online. Trained parish leaders would then be able to offer it in their parish community”.
“We want parish leaders to participate and train to become leaders. Following that, we want every parishioner to participate, if possible, because all of us have a responsibility for the mission to share the Good News.”
Mr O’Connell said that the diocese is awaiting confirmation “from the Siena Institute around the training of leaders [using an online resource], but it is our hope that we will be able to get underway without having to bring in any overseas speakers”.
He said that Pope Francis, in his post-synodal exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), wrote that, “In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers” (EG27).
“We heard about the Ananias programme when Sherry Weddell visited Christchurch last year, and it seems to be one option [that] we could offer our parish communities to respond to this call of Pope Francis,” Mr O’Connell said.
Mr O’Connell said that, based on feedback to Bishop Paul Martin’s “Our Faith Our Future” vision for the diocese, and on the journey that the diocese has been on over the past few years in “growing our knowledge of evangelisation”, “we believe a lot of people are hungry and ready for this kind of training”.
“Encouraging our parish leaders to go through the programme first I think will help our parish [communities] participate as well.”
Mr O’Connell, who has been in his current role since 2015, pointed to attendance by people from Christchurch diocese at events like Proclaim conferences in Australia and a parish renewal conference in Christchurch in 2017, as well as at talks given locally by Canadian Fr James Mallon and Sherry Weddell in recent years.
“Over the years, the Christchurch diocese has been on a real journey of growing in our understanding of mission and evangelisation,” Mr O’Connell said.