Progress report on ‘Disciples on the Way’

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Bishop Ricken

Since 2014, we, the people of the Diocese of Green Bay, have been following a journey of faith called, “Disciples on the Way.” A disciple is a student who discovers Jesus, follows Jesus, worships Jesus and shares Jesus with others. “Disciples on the Way” is a mission map and an itinerary for growing as disciples, leading us to a deeper faith and a more dynamic and comprehensive expression of that faith.

The essential purpose of the church is to evangelize by introducing others to our best friend, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This has always been the mission of the church. This has been emphasized to an ever greater degree by the popes in the past 50 years; they call it the “new evangelization.” Given the great challenges to faith and the church that we face today, it is now more necessary than ever that we become intentional about this mission of the new evangelization. “Disciples on the Way” is the Diocese of Green Bay’s response to this call.

Recognizing that this journey would take some time, I considered it necessary that we develop a scope, sequence and time line. The preparation time line for our mission is Pentecost 2014 to Pentecost 2022. This time line allows for preparing the leadership of the diocese and its parishes to form a clear understanding of the new evangelization and to cultivate the missionary spirit necessary to engage in this exciting adventure.

2014-2016: Praying as Disciples to Discover Jesus More Personally

The first two years of this process focused on returning us ever more deeply to prayer as individual disciples, families and as communities of disciples. To guide the first two years, I wrote a document entitled, “Teach My People to Pray.” This document prepared the groundwork for our journey by permeating the entire process with prayer, enabling us to be renewed by our friendship with Jesus and deepen our love for his body, the church. This document was meant to stimulate a greater interest in personal prayer and meditation. I encouraged parents and families to pray together in the home, to pray the rosary together, to read the Bible together in a prayerful process called lectio divina (praying with the Bible), and to develop their own unique traditions of prayer.

I have also encouraged each parish to celebrate the Mass more prayerfully and faithfully. In addition, I asked each parish to hold a monthly holy hour at a time convenient for most of the parishioners. This provides parishioners an opportunity to pray before the Blessed Sacrament for their families, for the sick, for vocations to priesthood and religious life, for the growth of their parish, for their pastor and staff, and for the diocese and the bishop. The posture of kneeling or sitting before the Lord, individually or as a community in the Blessed Sacrament, is the posture of the disciple open to discovering who Jesus is and what he wants to offer to us, his beloved brothers and sisters. It also clarifies our mission in life in this new outreach and draws us closer to the celebration of the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian life.

Prayer for the disciple never ends. Whether personal or communal, it should continue to grow and develop for the rest of our lives, as individuals, as families, and as parishes. We are seeking to live in union with God all our life long.

2016-2018: Forming Disciples who Follow Jesus Closely

During the first two years of our “Disciples on the Way” process, it was determined that a new vision and mission be articulated for the diocese to reflect the emphasis on missionary discipleship in the universal church. Through prayer and in conversation with parishes, leaders, schools and apostolates throughout the diocese, a new vision and mission statement was articulated for the Diocese of Green Bay.

VISION: We are missionary disciples striving to lead all people to the Kingdom of God.

MISSION: As friends and followers of Jesus, we are devoted to fostering households and communities of discipleship through the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church.

Communities of Discipleship:

  • Discover Jesus.
  • Follow Jesus.
  • Worship Jesus.
  • Share Jesus with others.

In the diocese, we are striving to simplify and streamline our offices and our services so that they will align more compatibly with our new vision and mission. This realignment will allow us to respond with greater flexibility to assist our parishes and other Catholic institutes to lead this new mission into their communities.

This past year, the priests and pastoral leaders concentrated on learning about discipleship and learning a new paradigm of speaking about the faith. Though new to us, this approach actually goes back to the very early days of the church’s life when she lived almost entirely by a missionary impulse. Our leaders are focusing greatly on discipleship through our “Discipleship Seminar I” and through Alpha, a specialized immersion experience in small groups.

This school year, deacons, parish staffs, principals, religious education administrators and parish leadership, will attend the “Discipleship Seminar I” and participate in the Alpha experience where small groups learn to encounter Jesus more personally.

Over the next period of years, we hope to form, in “discipleship,” many of our people who already come to church, and prepare them for deepening their walk with Jesus. We hope to prepare each of them for missionary outreach in their homes, families, neighborhoods, parishes and beyond. We need to win souls for Jesus and his body, the church. Each of us should be bringing people to Christ all the time.

The Catholic schools in the diocese are undergoing a very thorough evaluation in the hopes of helping us to reorganize and redirect our Catholic schools to become schools of discipleship. We want to really assist our schools to continue adapting to the demands of the times and to help parents realize what a great gift these schools are to their family life, to them personally and to our communities. In addition, we want to help parents become engaged disciples, inspired to help their children grow closer to Jesus, ready to support our schools and religious education programs, and become active disciples in their parishes.

So far, the response to these initiatives has been very positive. Many from outside the diocese are telling us that we are leading the way in this venture of preparing for the New Evangelization. The Holy Spirit is moving!

2018-2020: Worshipping Jesus as His Disciples

At the request of the priests and pastoral leaders of the diocese, we are extending the time line of “Disciples on the Way.” The time line of the journey is being extended so that we may spend some essential time growing our understanding of discipleship and improving the quality of our worship on Sundays.

According to national research, “parishes that are growing and vibrant emphasize a spirit and practice of invitation and welcoming at Sunday Masses. They emphasize homilies that refer often to the kerygma, the basic proclamation of the ‘Good News’ of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They give great care to sacred music in their parish Masses that help the community of disciples to pray.” My hope is that these years devoted to worshipping Jesus will serve as opportunities for our parishes to grow in these areas.

Disciples on the Way: 150th Anniversary

One of the ways to worship Jesus is to offer thanks for the many ways he has blessed us. In the Diocese of Green Bay, he has blessed us abundantly! March 3, 2018, marks the 150th anniversary of when our diocese was formed, making 2018 an appropriate time to reflect on all God’s blessings on this diocese and to give thanks.

This will be an anniversary year of grace for the diocese and will involve a few simple activities that will help us to appreciate all that we have received as a legacy of faith. We will reach out to others who may have been forgotten, overlooked or taken for granted by celebrating 12 special Masses in our newly restored mother church, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. A new book, depicting the history of the diocese, is being published for adults and youth and will be available to parishes and schools. More information on other events for this Jubilee Year will be forthcoming.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this anniversary year will be a joyous time of reflection to thank God for the legacy of faith we have formed through him. This will bring the new vision and mission for the Diocese of Green Bay into being for the next years of life and service by the church in northeast Wisconsin.

2020-2022: Disciples Sent on Mission to Share Jesus

We are still exploring this phase but it will involve us living out the critical mission of the new evangelization — bringing the Good News to our families, friends and parishioners who have become inactive, and neighborhoods, both physical and virtual. This certainly does not mean that all of us should wait until this process is complete to share Jesus with others. However, we must be intentional in our efforts to ensure that a critical mass of missionary disciples is formed and sent out to be impactful for the Gospel and the church in northeast Wisconsin by 2022.

Please consider this an invitation from me, to be a part of this journey.

Thanks be to God that there is a great deal happening in our diocese. Please continue to pray for your pastors and pastoral leaders, deacons, parish staff and fellow parishioners. Please uplift in your prayers our schools, religious education programs, our teachers and catechists. Lastly, I would ask that you please pray for the diocese and for me.

In your prayers, I ask that you be attentive to how the Holy Spirit is calling you to take part in this journey. Please accept the invitations that will come your way to be more involved in your parish and in the diocese over the next months and years. Each one of us is necessary and has a place in this process.

It is going to take all of us rowing the boat of Peter in unison to steer through these troubled, but wonderful times to win souls for the Kingdom of God. We place our trust in God the Father, our hope in Jesus Christ and our preparation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we look to our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Good Help, as the first and the best evangelizer of all times.