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emmausA friend of mine in the Community of Sant’Egidio has asked me to reflect upon this past Holy Week and Easter Sunday in the parish and how the community accompanied the parish in its celebration.

“Accompanied,” I believe, is the proper word. Parishes by their very nature are living realities that are grounded in faith and their own particular history, tradition and makeup.  St. Dominic Parish is no exception to this.  Every parish has a living history that should be honored for what it has achieved yet also continually nourished into future growth.  No movement within the Church should seek to replace or even replicate the living reality of the parish.  That being said, we all help one another along in the journey of faith and it has been my experience that the Community of Sant’Egidio has many rich gifts to offer that a parish can benefit from both in the celebration of Holy Week and throughout the year.  In order to be manageable though the focus of this reflection will be solely on Holy Week.

For full disclosure, I believe it important to also state that my own discipleship and priesthood has been effected by my encounter with and involvement in the Community of Sant’Egidio and, that as pastor of St. Dominic parish, I bring this influence with me into the parish. The pastor of a parish does have a unique role is helping to set the atmosphere of a parish.  It is not the sole influence on a parish but it is one that should be acknowledged.  For example, one of the things I find truly good and right about the Community of Sant’Egidio is a healthy relationship between priests and laity.  These two groups are neither in competition nor are they set apart and, I believe, neither should they be viewed so.  I bring this perspective with me into the parish.  I am willing to work with the people of a parish as fellow disciples and I believe that people notice this and appreciate it.  Yes, priests have specific roles and the pastor does have specific duties and responsibilities but these are best lived within the whole context of a community seeking discipleship together even as it may make things more laborious at times.  Frankly, I believe that the priest needs to avoid the common temptation of playing the hero and the people need to avoid the temptation of seeking to make the priest the hero as a way of avoiding their own responsibility.  We are disciples together.

As we began Holy Week 2016, I shared with the St. Dominic community the thought that our Lord greatly desires to spend these days with us. In the thirteenth chapter of John’s gospel, we find expressed a great longing and even tender love on our Lord’s part to be with his disciples and prepare them for what is to come even as his own hour approaches.  This is a perspective firmly rooted in the gospels and an awareness that the Community of Sant’Egidio maintains.  There is a deeper movement to Holy Week than that of us going about our rituals professing our belief, together yet isolated at the same time.  Christ himself gathers us in and he gathers each one of us.  Christ wants to spend these days with all of his disciples and with each disciple.  We are not forgotten and we are not disposable.  We are each remembered by Christ in Holy Week and we are each wanted by Christ.  He greatly desires to spend these days with each of us.

Within the above mentioned deeper context of Holy Week there were three particular moments that the Community of Sant’Egidio accompanied St. Dominic Parish these days. The moments were not “Sant’Egidio only” but were a joint accompanying between the parish and the community.  The three moments were Mercy Palms on Palm Sunday, the Prayer for the Martyrs and the ongoing relationship with our sister parish in Blantyre, Malawi.  I would like to reflect a little on each aspect.

In a way to live the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Marco Impagliazzo (the president of the Community of Sant’Egidio) invited all the groupings of Sant’Egidio worldwide to live Palm Sunday as a demonstration of mercy. In the spirit of Pope Francis, we were invited to take the palms outside the walls of our church as a visible sign of God’s love and mercy for the poor and forgotten in our society.  At St. Dominic’s we decided to do this by making close to 150 palm crosses and taking them as a gift to our friends at Holston Manor Nursing Home.  We gathered on Palm Sunday afternoon with a few of our friends in the day room of Holston Manor.  We had a simple ceremony with a reading of the gospel and blessing of the palm crosses.  Those present had some social time together and then after a while our group divided up and we took the palm crosses throughout the nursing home, offering them to every resident we met as well as staff members.  It was a simple gesture but a gesture that said “you are not forgotten”.  The residents were truly grateful.  In this simple act, St. Dominic Parish and Sant’ Egidio began Holy Week together by going out to the poor and forgotten in a gesture of mercy.

On Monday night of Holy Week, St. Dominic Parish with the Sant’Egidio Community offered the Prayer for the Martyrs. This prayer is an annual remembering of our Christian brothers and sisters who have offered their lives for the gospel within the past year and in the recent past.  This was the second year that this prayer was offered at St. Dominic Church.  This prayer is very meaningful and beautiful.  The Prayer for the Martyrs fits quite well within the first few days of Holy Week and helps to bring a deeper awareness and connection with our fellow Christians who are experiencing persecution for their faith in Christ.  Prayer is powerful and it is a good and important thing for the Church to gather in prayer and to remember that the names of our brothers and sisters are not forgotten and are precious to our Lord.

In the fall of 2015, St. Dominic Parish began a sister parish relationship with St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Blantyre, Malawi – a church staffed by priests of the Community of Sant’Egidio. St. Dominic’s is currently raising funds that will enable to parish and school in Malawi to build housing for teachers that will, in turn, allow the school to attract good teachers and make sure that classes do not have to be cancelled due to transportation difficulties during the rainy season.  We believe that the best way we can help to have a long term impact is to strengthen education possibilities in the local community.  Our parish youth coordinated a fund drive during the season of Lent for the school at our sister parish.  The presence in friendship of our sister parish was expressed during Holy Week through photos from Malawi shared via social media as well as a note from Fr. Ernest, the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish.

We do accompany one another along the journey of faith and this is especially true during Holy Week. I can only speak to my experience with Sant’Egidio and the parish, but I do believe that the movements within our Catholic Church have great gifts to share with our parish communities and vice versa.  We all mutually benefit from this sharing and accompanying.  We help one another along.  Together, St. Dominic Parish and the Community of Sant’Egidio, celebrated a Holy Week where we were both gathered in by our Lord and sent forth to proclaim the truth of the resurrection and God’s love!

I wish this reflection to be a beginning of a dialogue so I encourage friends both within the parish structure and within Sant’Egidio to share your thoughts through comments. I would enjoy hearing from you.  Here are a few question for reflection that might help begin the process:

What do you find life-giving about your parish? What do you find life-giving about your experience with a movement within the Church?

How was Holy Week celebrated in the context in which you found yourself? What was profound about the celebration and what might have been limited?

How might movements “accompany” parishes both during such times as Holy Week but also throughout the year? How might parishes benefit from this accompanying?  How might movements benefit from this accompanying?