Archbishop Hebda’s pastoral letter invites parishioners to be evangelizers

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Father James Peterson, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Columbia Heights, Minn., holds up a commemorative copy of Archbishop Bernard Hebda's post-synodal pastoral letter "You Will be My Witnesses: Gathered and Sent from the Upper Room," for the congregation to see during a Spanish Mass Nov. 20, 2022. Father Peterson read an excerpt of the letter in Spanish for the Latino community at the parish. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Parishes throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are moving forward on a renewed path of evangelization with the introduction of a pastoral letter from Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda meant to build synodality and deepen discipleship.

The letter: “You Will be My Witnesses: Gathered and Sent from the Upper Room,” was prepared following three years of an archdiocesan synodal process where parishioners expressed their needs and desires to the archbishop.

Priests introduced special commemorative editions of the document and played an introductory video during Masses the weekend of Nov. 19-20.

“It’s going to have a great effect on our local archdiocese, and not only our archdiocese, but each one of us,” said Father Peter Ly, pastor of Presentation of Mary Parish in suburban Maplewood.

“The archbishop has a plan for each of us to strengthen our community — the archdiocese and here at Presentation,” Father Ly said.

During the listening sessions across the archdiocese Archbishop Hebda offered prayers to the Holy Spirit for discernment in preparing a pastoral plan.

The effort culminated In June, when nearly 500 people gathered for a three-day archdiocesan assembly in St. Paul. The representatives voted on 40 propositions, which were categorized into three focus areas: forming parishes that are in the service of evangelization; forming missionary disciples who know Jesus’ love and respond to his call; and forming youth and young adults in and for a church that is always young.

In response to the assembly vote and the activities leading to it, the pastoral letter sets out priorities for the next three years.

The document especially emphasizes the formation of parish Synod Evangelization Teams that in successive years will help establish parish-based small groups, find ways to teach about the Mass while enhancing liturgies and focusing on the Eucharist and assist parents in forming their children in the Faith.

It also promises archdiocesan support for such efforts through an Office of Synod Evangelization and vicars of evangelization and charisms.

Shaped by the mysteries of the Upper Room, where Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, instituted the Eucharist and where the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost, the archbishop’s letter encourages people to live in faith, service, love and powerful witness to the Spirit. It encourages walking with one another in synodality, or respectful and faithful accompaniment, an effort sought by Pope Francis for the church around the world.

“It’s my hope people will read this pastoral letter,” Brandy Wentzler, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Vermillion, said of the archbishop’s nearly 60-page letter. “Where Archbishop Hebda goes into his imagery of the Upper Room, that’s where I really felt stirrings in my heart.”

The archbishop’s apology early in the letter for church wrongdoing in the clergy sexual abuse crisis and its commitment to safe environments going forward was “moving in a meaningful way,” Wentzler said.

“It’s a beautiful demonstration of humility,” she said. “It’s what all of us need to do.”

Ian Handrigan, 18, a member of the Church of Gitchitwaa Kateri and a senior at DeLaSalle High School, both in Minneapolis, said he was touched by the letter’s emphasis on service to others.

“The washing of the feet really did strike me the most,” he said. “Especially how much it talked about serving others and laying down ourselves when possible.”

Handrigan said he was on a mission trip in St. Louis in June when the leaders washed the feet of the young volunteers.

“I never felt the Spirit like that before. My sense of self dissolved. It was just love. There were no words that needed to be said. It was pure love, from everyone,” he said.

An assembly participant, Handrigan said he continues to be concerned about his generation’s denial of God, and the Church’s ability to reach those who need to hear the good news.

“The letter moves us in the right direction,” he said. “I think the archbishop outlined a wonderful path to follow (with) foot-washing, the Eucharist and spreading the word.”

Kathryn Lien, 69, played the organ and piano at the Mass at Presentation of Mary Parish, where the video was played. A member of St. Mary of the Lake Parish in White Bear Lake, Lien said she agreed with the call for the laity to take up evangelization.

“I was very heartened by his invitation as co-workers in the field, and collaborators,” Lien said of Archbishop Hebda’s message. “Anything we can do to flatten the hierarchical structures will help the Church in its work of bringing Jesus to the world. Everybody has a unique role to play.”

Ruff is news editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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