NORTHWEST PA — On the day he was introduced to the Diocese of Erie, Bishop Lawrence Persico said he had only one agenda: to share the love of Jesus Christ. He promised he would encourage people to embrace Jesus, and to open their hearts to a loving God.
As he spoke those words nine years ago, he had no idea he would soon become ensconced in pastoral planning including parish and school restructuring, quickly followed by the challenges of a statewide grand jury report on clergy abuse, immediately prior to facing the uncharted waters of a worldwide pandemic.
“Yet our loving God is at work among us,” the bishop has now written in a letter to the Faithful that introduces a new initiative: Re-membering Our Sunday Story. The effort is designed to ensure parishioners grow in their sense of welcome and their understanding of the importance of both community and the Eucharist.
“Although we have been busy navigating complex situations and obstacles,” Bishop Persico says, “there is a sense we have arrived at a moment of opportunity. The sacrifices we’ve had to make as a result of the pandemic have deepened our appreciation for worship, for community and for the Eucharist.”
Early last spring, the bishop asked Deacon Steve Washek, executive director of the Office of Faith Formation, to head up a task force charged with creating resources that would help parishes across the diocese celebrate this moment of renewal. The group recently launched www.ErieRCD.org/SundayStory, a website where clergy and parish staff can find customizable resources for their parish communities. Parishioners are welcome to visit the site and will encounter a series of invitations to enjoy its offerings in user-friendly ways.
Anchoring the initiative, and also available on the website, is a pastoral letter from Bishop Persico, the first he has issued.
“It’s not something I expect people will immediately read from cover-to-cover,” the bishop says. “But it’s a good foundation that parishes can use in the coming months.” Fashioned around the story of the two disciples who unknowingly encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus, the letter revisits some of the difficulties people have faced during the pandemic and facilitates reflection on what has been learned. It underscores how Christ remained present throughout the pandemic, even though he was not always recognized. A series of questions for contemplation and discussion related to the letter are being developed, and bulletin announcements and social media posts based on the letter also will be created.
In his introduction to the letter, Bishop Persico says his hope and prayer is that the resources will help parishioners go back to the original goal he shared upon arrival in the diocese and encourage them to “open their hearts to God.”