Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Buckingham, Bucks County, built its young parish through Mary’s intercession and the encouragement of lay people to share their gifts – especially evangelization.
Two of the 14-year-old parish’s programs, a book club and Bible study, reflect the modern need for both scriptural and testimonial catechesis.
Each Monday at 7 p.m. in the church a group discusses “James: Pearls for Wise Living,” the Ascension Press study of the New Testament’s Letter of James.
Meanwhile another group is discussing the parish book club’s Christmas gift to the congregation: author and evangelist Matthew Kelly’s CD, “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself,” Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Pope Francis emphasized the importance of parish-level evangelization in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” “On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World.”
“The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration,” he wrote. “In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.”
Margaret Szewczak, director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Guadalupe, said the parish Bible studies remind Catholics primarily that they should, in fact, read the Bible: “Everything we do is based on God’s Word – so of course we read the Bible!”
She said the study groups also inspire participants to share life experiences and relate life lessons to Scripture. “(They) bring out the big picture for people,” Szewczak said. “Everybody struggles with the same things in life.”
Szewczak recalled one study session in which a younger person was shocked to hear an older person say, “Oh, I remember going through that.” The older member said, “Honey, we all have issues!”
“Bible studies help the community connect through our faith,” said Msgr. Joseph Gentili, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. “When we hear Christ’s Word and understand his message we are more prepared for life and its challenges. This is relevant to parish life because it builds community with Christ being at the center.”
The study of James, a book often omitted in Protestant Bibles, focuses on how to live faith amidst daily work. Szewczak cited persecution in the early church when Christians were criticized of “buying their way into heaven with works,” but said James explains how “part of being a good Christian is doing works.”
“By using material from Matthew Kelly and Ascension Press the lay person who is facilitating the session doesn’t need to be an expert on the Catholic faith. The expert is the author,” said Szewczak. “The facilitator simply needs to keep the conversations going. This allows the parish to offer more programs without the priests being present.”
While the pope defined a parish as “a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach,” he also called Catholics to further witness.
“We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented,” he wrote in “Evangelii Gaudium.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s book club started as a group of senior citizens who met Friday mornings. The group read Matthew Kelly’s book “Rediscover Catholicism” after it had met for three months. The seniors were inspired to share the message of that evangelically charged book with a wider, and younger, audience.
“I see a wonderful opportunity with a new parish to be able to do these things,” said Anne Kane, leader of the Matthew Kelly study group. “We don’t have established people who have done things forever; this welcoming parish encouraged me to take an active part and get involved.”
The group distributed 100 copies of “Rediscover Catholicism” at a parish ministry fair and later invited anyone who had read it to a discussion; 20 people of various ages came.
At Christmas, the ministry gave 1,500 copies of Matthew Kelly’s “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself” CD, hoping to reach more parishioners – especially those who don’t regularly attend Mass.
“After distribution, we followed up with a brief survey to see what each parishioner thought about the presentation,” said Father Robert Ianelli, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. “The fire these groups have for the faith has the potential of reaching people on different ends of the ‘faith spectrum.’”
He said the Bible study and Matthew Kelly groups “address the need of ongoing catechesis.”
“In the context of community, they help to explore the faith at a deeper level and reawaken the universal baptismal call to holiness,” Father Ianelli said.
The fact that laity lead the initiatives is “a living witness to the Second Vatican Council’s stress on the universal call to holiness,” he said.
“Also, the lay faithful, by engaging in these programs, can reach people whom they personally know, whether at home or in the workplace, thus living out the missionary aspect of their role as lay faithful — to go out in the world and make disciples,” Father Ianelli said.
For more information:
Register for James: Pearls for Wise Living by contacting Margaret Szewczak at 267-147-5374 ext. 225, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn about the Matthew Kelly Study Group by contacting Anne Kane at 215-348-9078 or by email at email@example.com.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is located at 5194 Cold Spring Creamery Road, Buckingham.
Erin Maguire is a freelance writer in Flourtown.