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March 22, 2014

Going beyond 'What are you giving up for Lent?'

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing writer
The Daily Star

---- — “Spiritual and/or Religious?” “I’m afraid that I am the last Catholic in my family.” “I just can’t do this anymore.” “I want to belong, but where?”

One local church is experimenting with a program to deal with those issues in this season of Lent, in which the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and the Thursday before Easter is observed in the Christian tradition by fasting, prayer and penitence. 

Father David Mickiewicz, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Oneonta, said he hopes to dispel with a series called, “Lent for Real Life” the uncertainty some practitioners of Catholicism might be feeling, going beyond the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?”

“We have a parish mission beginning Monday and going through Friday,” Mickiewicz said. “We have local people speaking, and our topics are very intense. The series will be presented twice during the day, so that those people who work may come in the evening and those people who do not want to be out after dark can come during the day.” 

“We want to make this as accessible as possible,” he said. “We are providing child care and will stay on a 90-minute per session track, and that includes questions and answers.”

The topics were chosen by committee members who had read “Christianity After Religion,” by Diana Butler Bates. The book talks about living in a secular community, and yet churches treat religious dogma with more importance that the spiritual acts, Mickiewicz said.

“The way the church rites are presented, it is like an exclusive language known only to those who are a part of the group,” he said. “We need to rethink that. Religion expresses our dichotomy when it should be about — not so much the mythology but more of the responsibility of the church. Pope Francis has really given the church a whole new face. As he says, it is time for mercy.”

The program is intended to provoke dialogue between committed members of the parish and Christians who feel that there is no place for them in church. It also is open to anyone who may want more information about Catholicism. Each program is presented as a conversation by an area expert.

The first conversation – “Spiritual and/or Religious?” will be presented Monday by Dr. David Avvento, a parishioner at St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park.

“Spiritual or religious is a huge topic for anyone to contemplate,” said St. Mary’s parishioner Martie Meadows, who was one the committee members. “Everyone deals with that. It is a modern problem many people face. We are holding these conversations in the parish center of the church instead of in the church itself because we want people to be comfortable and not be distracted by all the churchy stuff.”

“I’m afraid that I am the last Catholic in my family” will be the topic on Tuesday by Rev. Patrick Butler, pastor at St. Edward the Confessor.

“I just can’t do this anymore” will be presented Wednesday be Sister Monica Murphy, Director of Pyramid of Life Center located north of Albany.

“There are many people who have grandchildren who are not getting baptized and they are not being raised in the Catholic Church and this really bothers some of these grandparents,” Mickiewicz said. “We also have people, such as those who are divorced, who would like to belong, but they don’t feel welcome. They should feel welcome. We are not going to change our beliefs; however, there are many ways to look at the doctrine. Sometimes things need to be reinterpreted.”

“I want to belong, but where?” will be presented Thursday by David Amico, director of Kateri Institute for Lay Ministry Formation.

“We have all this talent here in our diocese,” Meadows said. “I have heard all of them speak. They are all dynamic speakers.”

On Friday, the church will do the “Stations of the Cross” in the company of clowns. This is a program that has received a lot of attention in the Catholic Church. It uses clowns and mimes to tell the story of Jesus’ journey — from being condemned to death, his taking the cross of execution to the hill where he is nailed to the cross, his death and the removal of his body to the tomb.

“The clowns are from our diocese,” said Martha Delello, a parishioner of St. Mary’s. “We have planned this for a long time. Last year, we wanted them to come but they were already booked somewhere else.”

Anyone who is interested in the programs is invited to attend. For more information call (607) 432-3920.