Some have said that it’s not so much that the Church of Christ has a mission, but that the mission of Jesus Christ has a Church. That was very apparent this past Holy Week at Mater Dolorosa parish in New Orleans.
While some pastors might think of Holy Week as the time of year for adding extra liturgies to the church bulletin and extra flowers for the church sanctuary, some pastors are going back to the roots of holy week. It is a time to get their flock outside the church and spreading the Good News of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. It is anything but a moment to simply gather the same volunteers to arrange flowers around the altar. Holy Week is mission week, and this is how Fr. Herb Kiff, the pastor of Mater Dolorosa, thinks.
Together with a team of Regnum Christi members, his church welcomed over 100 young adults from the apostolate Mission Youth. These kids agreed to stay overnight at the parish from Wednesday to Saturday of Holy Week. They would spend the holy days on mission, and the work they did in and around the church was amazing!
“It was the best time of year for me as a priest. Because of these missionaries, we heard about eight hours of confessions on Holy Thursday alone!”, so said Fr Zachary Dominguez, a priest of the Legion of Christ who helped in the organization.
On Thursday the kids went to downtown New Orleans and opened wide the doors of St. Louis cathedral. In the plaza in front of the church, just off infamous Bourbon street, are usually found tarot card and palm readers mingled in with panhandlers and homeless. But on this night the Eucharist was exposed on the altar of the cathedral, a praise and worship band from Mission Youth set up shop in the plaza and began to elevate their songs of praise. The rest of the parishioners from Mater Dolorosa filed out into the crowds of people, inviting everyone to come into the church, to light a candle or go to confession or just to offer a prayer.
“The church was full of people coming and going. One couple, tourists from Seattle, said this was the highlight of their trip! And all of it because the young adults of Mission Youth were going out from the church inviting and engaging every passerby. They have a lot of faith!” said Fr. Gregory Usselmann, another LC priest inside hearing confessions.
The next day in the same downtown area, the Mission Youth kids brought large crosses into the street intersections. The people passing by were invited to write down a prayer intention and nail the small piece of paper to the cross. Later, the Regnum Christi people organized a Good Friday Way of the Cross procession through the downtown area. The local police provided an escort and shut down roads as the more than 1500 people walked from church to church remembering the sufferings of Jesus.
All of this and more, from feeding the homeless to going door to door in the neighborhood around Mater Dolorosa to hand out invitations to the Church and the liturgy schedule. There was an uptick in attendance this holy week.
“It was great to see a church no longer just a “church of Maintenance” as they say, but a church on mission”, said Fr Gregory. “If the church will make an impact in this post-modern world, we have to listen to Pope Francis and go out into the streets and plazas. We can’t sit back anymore and expect the people to come. That worked in the 50s, but not today.”
Holy week is never going to be the same in this parish. You can see the change and the renewal: now at Mater Dolorosa, it is a “Mission” that has a church building, rather than a church building in need of “maintenance”.
For more information:
– More info on Mission Youth Missions here.