As part of the diocese's new evangelization, St. John Kanty Parish in Buffalo will implement a special Advent program designed to get parishioners back into the pews and into the spirit of the season. The program will span three weeks with evening sessions of discussion, videos, prayer and Scripture.
The sessions, all of which are on Tuesdays, will be an hour long and include Advent preparation during the first week, which will teach them about the Advent wreath, why Catholics celebrate Advent and the importance of the season in terms of coming together in prayer and spiritual celebration for the birth of Jesus, rather than about the materialism often associated with the coming season.
"We're also going to do some media, which means we're going to put in some video presentations on the spirit of Advent, and how do we fit in as a church community, not only spiritually, looking what Advent means by word and by rule, said Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, an event organizer. "We also want to talk about how we can come together as a community and celebrate the presence of Jesus."
"We'll show some videos and be having some talks, and on the third week, we're going to ask Father Frederick Betti, SJ, from Canisius High School - he's going to have the celebration of Mass, and what we will do there is, the theme will be 'Keep Christ in Christmas,'" she added.
"Our parish has been kind of dwindling substantially throughout the years, so we're hoping that this will bring some of the people back into the church," said Deacon David Velasquez, pastoral administrator of St. John Kanty Parish. "We're a combined parish. They merged about six years ago with St. Adalbert Parish, and right now we have only 214 registered families, between both of them."
Since Deacon Velasquez joined the parish in October 2013, he has noticed a "continual downsizing" of populations of people who attend Mass, with fewer and fewer people each year. "We're hoping this will rejuvenate the area," he said, adding that Advent is a time when the parish should have hope that by opening its doors to everyone, things will be able to change for it in the near future.
Deacon Velasquez also said 80 percent of St. John Kanty Parish's parishioners are from suburbs, rather than the city of Buffalo, including Hamburg, Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and West Seneca, but the closest suburb is Cheektowaga. As one of the new Advent program's facilitators, along with his wife, Lynn, he and his wife are on a parish committee along with Sister Johnice.
Other parish event organizers include Michael Gilhooly, Chris and Ed Bosiacki and Lawrence Maguda. Maguda, the parish choir director, will speak about Advent music, Sister Johnice will organize spiritual preparation, Gilhooly is giving video presentations and Deacon Velasquez will do the Scripture reflections, and the sessions will all have this format to create a fully-rounded picture of what Advent is.
"It's going to be Scripture, video presentation, spiritual preparation, prayer and music, so we really want to get the flavor. What is Advent? It means it's the coming, and what are the key steps to Advent - slowing down, building the trust, and looking to, 'what do I long for?' That's basically what we want to, and to prepare ourselves to get away from the commercialism, the materialism, and really bring about the spiritual dimension in the season," commented Sister Johnice. "We are inviting not only the parish, but anyone who would like to participate - people from the neighborhood, people from the dioceses, other parishes."
Sister Johnice said members of the parish initially formed a spiritual life committee, in recognizing the need for evangelization and reawakening faith in parishioners' lives. They considered what the parish could effectively do to get people in touch and bring a spiritual meaning to the Advent and Christmas season, and the committee will be placing flyers in the church, from Nov. 15 to Nov. 30.
In addition to assisting St. John Kanty Parish, Sister Johnice is the executive director of the Response to Love Center, an organization that provides services to people in need, including prepared meals, nutritional classes, health care, GED classes, assistance programs for veterans and job fairs on Buffalo's East Side. Since 1996, it has given assistance to over 28,000 people in at least 11,400 households.
St. John Kanty Parish generally faces the same challenges as many other Western New York parishes that have lost parishioners, and Deacon Velasquez hopes the new evangelization will help. "It comes at a good time, when so many people are turning away from the Church. Obviously, the school closing has something to do with that, and more people are leaving. We need to stop and reevaluate our mission."
"We just want to let (people) know that all are welcome. It will make a good Advent journey, and we're hoping that they'll see what Advent is all about, a season of preparing," Deacon Velasquez added. "When you serve the community, you're serving God, and if we can bring them back into the Church and invite them to build the Church, the parish itself and all that goes into it. We're not a vibrant parish. We're a dying parish, and since I've taken over, we're beginning to become a bit more proactive."
"That's before Advent itself, and we're going to pass these out to get people ready before the Advent season by talking about the first steps to enter into Advent, then getting in touch with what we are longing for. The third week is to make the commitment to come and participate," Sister Johnice said. "It's really an important evangelistic tool, coming together, relearning our faith and, if we've relearned it, to grow more deeply and spiritually with the true meaning of what Advent is."