Parish Alive Summit 2024

On 17 February 2024, Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) leaders came from the four corners of the Archdiocese of Cape Town to attend the Parish Alive Summit held at Our Lady Help of Christians in Lansdowne. What a gathering and what a sense of unity and joy with almost 500 people from 73 parishes/churches present!

On 19 November 2022, Parish Alive was launched, so this was a celebration of the first anniversary of Parish Alive in the Archdiocese. There could not be a more appropriate name for this movement because the overall spirit of the Summit was that our parishes are alive with the Holy Spirit and a hunger to bring the Kingdom of God into the local communities. Our faith is alive, our church is alive. Each parish is unique and has its own journey to travel. But what the Parish Alive Summit showed is the great unity shared by all. Love and commitment to our faith strongly binds us together.

The Summit’s opening liturgy was led by and presided over by Cardinal Stephen Brislin. The roof of the church was certainly raised as everyone joined in the opening hymn “Here in this place, a new light is shining”. The theme of the opening liturgy could be summarized in the reading of Phil 2:1-4, which speaks of unity and of being in one spirit, and of one mind. In his address, the Cardinal spoke about synodality which, he explained, lies at the foundation of the Church. The synodal process is unique and is deeply spiritual, rooted in prayer and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Servant Song concluded the opening liturgy with the powerful words “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?” reminding us of Christ’s example of servant leadership that we are called to follow, especially in our roles as parish leaders.

Father Zane Godwin’s talk was entitled ‘An Invitational and Welcoming Church and Making the Most of the Weekend experience.’ The essential identity of the Church is to be missionary – through our baptism we are all called to be missionary. Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of The Gospel, speaks to this nature of the Church. Fr Zane spoke of a church that involves all and needs to be outward focused. Indeed, the church is one of the few organizations that exists for the people who are not members. Naturally the church needs to minister with love and care to all its members, but we should be inspired and challenged to invite others to share and participate in the good news. It should even disturb us that so many do not have what we have – a relationship with Jesus. For many, being missionary, going out and being invitational is challenging. So how do we create opportunities for being invitational? We should not underestimate the power of the individual who simply invites others – something good is going on here, come and see. Once we have invited people to come, we need to be sure that they have something to come to, a great reception – a welcoming church. We need to practice radical hospitality and from the moment a person arrives at the church, they should experience the love and warmth of a Christian community where everyone (not just the few) is engaged in hospitality. The Mass is the source and summit of our faith – it is the high point of the Christian life and it should be our deepest desire to share it with others. The weekend experience is what the majority of people experience in the Church and so it should be our priority to make it the extraordinary experience it rightfully should be, so that it has the greatest impact on people. (Also see Theology Today on page 6 in the AD News). Fr Zane introduced youth leader, Claudio de Sousa, who gave a powerful testimony of how the youth have responded to a welcoming invitational church in St John’s, Maitland.

One of the highlights of the Summit was the breakout session. Almost 60 groups each with six people randomly assigned gathered to talk about three questions: What a newcomer arriving for Mass for the first time or the first time in many years might realistically experience; What concrete things can we start doing to make our parishes more mission-oriented; and How we can actively engage long-time, regular parishioners in ministry and mission. The hall was buzzing with lively discussion, and we are thrilled that, with everyone’s help, we captured the results – which will be shared.

Nqobile Ngobo’s talk was about ‘Missionary Disciples’. She developed the definition of a disciple as someone who has a transformational encounter with Jesus, surrenders to him and follows him. We are called to imitate Jesus. When our lives are transformed, we transform our parishes. As Peter stepped out of the boat in faith to follow Jesus, so too does Jesus call to us saying ‘come’! Pope Benedict XVI said that ‘evangelization is to teach the art of living’. And so, from disciples we become missionary disciples – we transform ourselves and in turn our parishes. And ‘Like Jesus with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, so the Church becomes the travelling companion of people.’ (Pope John Paul II)

In the panel discussion, the theme of being missionary and evangelizing was further explored by the different speakers who talked about the important role of youth in our parishes (Dominique Yon); how we can evangelize in our everyday life, in the home, at school, in the workplace (Nqobile Ngcobo); the benefits of Parish Alive (Nick Bickell); and the way in which music in the church is deeply spiritual and touches the soul in a unique and special way (Alison Dunn).

The Summit fittingly ended with Benediction, celebrated by Bishop Sylvester David OMI. Bishop Sylvester summarized impressions of the day. Without a doubt the message of the day is that the Church is missionary and just as the apostles were called to be with Jesus and then sent out, so we too must do the same. It is about mission and we are called to do beautiful things for God. He said that in the Church there are no spectators, we need to be active participants. Bishop Sylvester ended with a hopeful message that we can see what hope God’s call has for each person. (Read Bishop Sylvester’s talk in his From the Book column on page 11 in the AD News).

And with this message we were sent….

Karen Parkin
Parish Alive Team Member and PPC Chair of Constantia Parish

Posted in Archdiocesan News.