NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — The Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, which is dedicated to establishing long-term twinning relationships between Catholic parishes in the U.S. and parishes in Haiti and Latin America, will host its 2018 national conference and 40th anniversary celebration in Nashville Aug. 24-26.
The program theme is “One Are We … The Blessings of Twinning,” and organizers are hoping to attract people involved in twinned parish ministries from across the country, as well as those hoping to establish a twinned parish relationship.
“The focus of the conference will be on heightening spiritual awareness as well as seeking more effective ways of serving the poor through parish twinning relationships,” said Theresa Patterson, the Parish Twinning Program’s founder and executive director.
“This is a unique opportunity to share best practices and learn from each other about how to build on strengths and avoid pitfalls in our mission work in Haiti and Latin America,” she told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. “We want everyone to walk away with a better understanding of the spiritual, cultural, social and economic factors that impact our ability to effectively serve the needs of our sister parishes.”
According to organizers, the event will focus on practical ways to remind attendees that God is the head of the mission and that they need to follow God’s lead, Patterson said. “We must have the heart of a servant and practice humility.”
To effectively put these principles into practice, the conference will emphasize the need for team building, prayer and spiritual preparation for mission trips, and the essential ingredients of open communication, respect, and careful listening to the people being served.
“We will also discuss other important best practice concepts in building strong relationships, including the need for transparency and accountability,” Patterson said.
After four decades of this initiative, much progress has been made in addressing basic needs in Haiti. But the work is far from over. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
“Education remains a crying need,” Patterson explained. “The lack of access to quality medical care remains an ongoing dilemma. And poor communities throughout the country — rural and urban — desperately need support for economic development to occur.”
The conference will commence with welcoming remarks and an opening prayer by Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding. Keynote speakers include retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq of Brooklyn, New York, who is Haitian-American; and nationally known speaker Msgr. Raymond East, pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Church in Washington, which is twinned with an impoverished parish in Haiti.
Another highlight will be a panel discussion entitled, “Understanding and Living Our Mission,” which features Julie Lupien, director of From Mission to Mission and recipient of the Pope Francis Mission Award from the U.S. Catholic Mission Association, and Rich Gosser, executive director of Rich in Mercy Institute.
Additionally, 10 “Best Practice” workshops will cover topics such as microfinancing and economic development, agriculture, clean water, medical and dental missions, technology, education and sustainable business opportunities.
The event also will provide an opportunity to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, with a special dinner honoring Patterson.
After making her first visit to Haiti in 1978, Patterson, a parishioner at St. Henry Church in Nashville, was inspired to start an organization that would work with U.S. Catholic parishes to develop twinning relationships with impoverished Catholic communities in Haiti. Since its humble beginnings, PTPA has formed more than 350 twinnings.
In 1998, the program expanded its mission to coordinate twinnings with poor communities in Latin America.
Patterson also founded the Visitation Hospital Foundation, which built a health care clinic in Petite-Rivere-de-Nippes, Haiti. The clinic provides much-needed health care to a rural area of Haiti with few health care resources.
Despite these remarkable accomplishments, the program’s upcoming event is even more vital today, with more than 100 parishes in Haiti and Latin America seeking twinning relationships with U.S. parishes, according to Patterson.
“We see this conference as an extension or continuation of our growth and development,” she said. “We need to better understand poverty as a structural problem and we need to open ourselves to new ways of addressing this problem, such as focusing on a community’s strengths more than its needs and the gifts and talents of the poor.
“As in life, we have much yet to absorb and learn in promoting self-reliance and seeking sustainable solutions.”
Patterson remarked that everyone involved in PTPA “also have an obligation to instill a sense of responsibility in our U.S. twinned parishes to raise our voices in defense of the poor.”
“Through our plenary sessions and workshops we hope to expand on these responsibilities and encourage our participants to listen to the poor, to hear their needs and to empower them,” she said.
Editor’s Note: To get more information about the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas conference or to register online, visit www.parishprogram.org.
Solomon writes for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.
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