In the wake of an archdiocese-wide shake-up resulting in many parish and school closings and other changes, Father John Granato wanted to galvanize members of Torrington’s newly created St. John Paul the Great Parish by inviting them to be "missionary disciples of Christ."
More than 60 people showed up at St. Peter/St. Francis School Jan. 31 to hear Deacon Ernest Scrivani, director for pastoral and strategic planning for the Archdiocese of Hartford, urge them to reach out to spread the faith.
In May 2017, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair announced that the 212 parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford would be reduced to 127 by June 29. The Torrington Cluster of Roman Catholic Parishes — consisting then of St. Francis, St. Peter, St. Mary and Sacred Heart parishes — merged into the new St. John Paul the Great Parish. Masses are now celebrated only in St. Francis and St. Peter churches.
Father Granato, pastor, told the Transcript that he discussed with his faith formation group members the idea of having monthly events to involve parishioners. He said that he suggested inviting Deacon Scrivani. "He’s in the whole pastoral planning thing. I wanted to bring in this ‘living as missionary disciples’ idea into it,” he said.
Pope Francis coined the term missionary disciples in his exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel." It highlights on the role that each person plays, by virtue of baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel.
Deacon Scrivani used three books on discipleship as sources for his talk: Living as Missionary Disciples, by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops; Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind, by J. Heinrich Arnold; and The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“Mission is something that God gives us,” Deacon Scrivani said, quoting the USCCB book. “The purpose of mission is to go forward, to bring others to understand what we’ve come to know and love about the Catholic Church, about Christ.”
We have all been commissioned by Christ to be missionary disciples, he said. Christ’s final words to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel were, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations….”
Deacon Scrivani said, “This wasn’t meant just for those guys who were standing around listening to our Lord. This was for everyone. We’re all disciples, and we’re all accountable. We all have a mission.”
He said the book by Arnold defines a disciple as “a person who associates himself with a master teacher.” He said we cannot be disciples unless we have a relationship with the Lord, and that relationship is “no different than the relationship you have with one another.” We need to talk to the Lord and then listen to him, he said.
“We have to allow the Lord to touch us, to inform us, to transform us,” he said, quoting from Arnold’s book.
Bonhoeffer’s book challenges us to accept the responsibility of being missionary disciples even at the cost of our own lives. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran minister in Nazi Germany. “He recognized the inherent evil in what was going on in Germany. He became an outspoken preacher against what the Nazis were preaching to their people. Bonhoeffer paid the ultimate price: he was murdered by the Nazis,” Deacon Scrivani said.
A key point in Bonhoeffer’s book, he said, is that salvation is free, but discipleship costs us our lives.
Deacon Scrivani challenged his listeners to ask God, “What am I here for? What would you have me do?”
During a discussion period, he asked listeners to talk about how they have encountered Jesus and how they have been disciples for the faith. A high school student named Jessica said she was apprehensive about attending a public high school because she thought there would be few students sympathetic to her Catholic faith. Instead, she found that by inviting people to pray with her, many non-Catholic friends opened up to her, she said.
Another parishioner asked what programs the parish or archdiocese has to aid individuals in becoming missionary disciples.
“You are the program,” Deacon Scrivani said. “We are all the program. We are disciples.”
Father Granato was pleased with Deacon Scrivani’s presentation and hopes it signals a coming-together of people who used to be from four separate parishes.
“We haven’t even been a full year as one new parish with the closing of two of our churches, and I just believe that by using this as a blueprint in the next months, we can try to bring everybody back together,” he said.