Pohlmeier’s service helped shape diocesan faith formation – Arkansas Catholic


The former director of religious formation visited each parish to understand their unique needs

Posted: July 20, 2022

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Bishop-elect Erik Pohlmeier reads from documents in his Little Rock office in September 2018 regarding programs he brought to the diocese that year as director of faith formation for the diocese: Called and Gifted Workshops for individual parishioners and Ananais Training for ministry leaders and volunteers.

When Bishop-elect Erik Pohlmeier was named diocesan director of faith formation in 2016, he made it a priority to listen, traveling to every parish in the state for a two-year period. He researched and worked to understand the needs of each parish and diocese with respect to the larger national picture.

The result was a 14-page “State of Faith Formation Report” which he presented to parish leaders in 2018. His passion for evangelism will continue to shape the lives of Catholics in the state for coming years.

“This is going to have an impact on the growth of the Church in Arkansas,” said Jeff Hines, who worked with the new bishop as associate director of religious education and who has now succeeded Bishop-elect Pohlmeier in as director. “So it’s a bit like the Gospel of Mark which says that the kingdom of God is like a man who sows seeds in the land, falls asleep and the seeds germinate later, he doesn’t know how”, pointing to Mark 4:26-27.

Train disciples

“He doesn’t go very long without quoting ‘The Joy of the Gospel.’ … He is really imbued with this encyclical of Pope Francis, which speaks of evangelization. One of his phrases” which he used, even during his press conference announcing his election as bishop, “He said that knowing Christ frees us from ‘sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.’ It’s on the first page.

The report highlighted common issues facing parishes, including the most common of people feeling “disconnected from parish life,” which has undoubtedly increased following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we follow Jesus’ pattern, the first thing he did was to call people. The second thing he did was bring them closer to him, and only then did he send them away. So we call people and send them, but sometimes we skip the step of bringing them closer to Jesus,” Bishop-elect Pohlmeier said in 2018 of the report.

The report promotes discipleship, focusing on key areas where people are on their journey of faith: Discipleship, focusing on people encountering and getting to know Jesus; the maturing of disciples, people who commit themselves to Jesus and grow in parish life; and the mission of the disciples, when private faith is brought to share with others how Jesus has impacted their lives.

It’s a concept that dates back to Jesus’ original call to his 12 apostles, but it has fallen out of the norm for parishes, replaced usually by structured education, programs and sporadic parish faith formation events. .

‘A few tips here’

The report and meetings with Bishop-elect Pohlmeier have given parish leaders like Christy Trantina, director of adult faith formation for St. Joseph’s Church in Conway, a vision for the future.

“He said the direction the diocese is going to take now is evangelism, and we all sort of thought, ‘We are ready, but we don’t know how. We will do anything you tell us, but we need guidance here,” she said.

And he did, meeting with religious formation leaders, catechesis leaders and directors of religious education from the central deanery of the diocese to explain how they could implement the idea of ​​evangelization in their parishes. , which he did with any parish that needed more guidance.

“It had the biggest impact on me personally and on our group. He made it a priority to meet with us almost every week for almost a year. … We worked on a series of documents that he found and that culminated in a series on evangelism,” Trantina said. “He took the time to mentor us personally, and he’s such a gifted teacher that anyone who knows him knows. He trained us and we were able to bring that back to our parishes.

Casting next steps

Trantina said while she was initially skeptical of the idea of ​​evangelism and how it would work, the bishop-elect stressed that it is not a quick process.

“Everything I do, evangelism is woven into it. Bishop-elect Erik has really helped me see that it’s one thing to attend a class, to attend a Bible study, to take steps to grow spiritually, but there is another step and a next step, and that is to share your faith with other people,” she says. “We are not born knowing how to do this. We have to learn that, and I learned that from him.

Bishop-elect Pohlmeier has also championed discipleship training programs like Called and Gifted and Ananias Training. Using the program of the Catherine Institute of Siena, the courses help a person to discover his charisms, the unique gifts of the Holy Spirit, and to bring them to all areas of our life. The Ananias training was intended for ministry leaders and volunteers.

Research, listen, innovate

Father Mauricio Carrasco leads several parishes in the river valley, pastoring St. John’s Church in Russellville, St. Augustine’s Church in Dardanelle and St. Andrew’s Church in Danville. He now shepherds the Church of the Assumption in Atkins in addition to the churches in Dardanelle and Danville. With limited time to research best practices in faith formation, Fr. Carrasco said he was grateful Bishop-elect Pohlmeier took the time to do the often “painful” part of research, to assist at national conferences and to bring the diocese up to date with the national conversation. around evangelism.

“I responded to everything he did and was really grateful that he could do the same – taking the time to listen to every parish. ‘Man, this guy doesn’t just bring a program.’ did extensive research, listened carefully to where our diocese is, and put it together, “OK, that’s what I’m hearing nationally and diocesanly”….No one has provided a magic bullet. helped insert our own challenges into a larger narrative and it gave us perspective.

Over the course of about a year, Bishop-elect Pohlmeier invited Father Carrasco and a handful of other young priests to discuss faith formation and attend conferences like Steubenville to learn more about modern formation. to faith formation.

Fr Carrasco said he has already seen the fruits of the different approach in his parishes, of a personal RCIA process more based on mentorship, intergenerational faith formation where parents are more involved in the formation of their child’s faith, focusing on the Gospels and strengthening family prayer. .

“It gives me security every time I present a different approach. Here’s the thing, Bishop-elect Erik Pohlmeier is also very innovative and he wasn’t afraid to try new things,” he said.

Deep roots in tradition

Innovative, yet deeply rooted in Catholic tradition, is what Sam Denefe, whom Bishop-elect Pohlmeier hired as director of evangelism when he pastored Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, brought to faith training.

“I don’t think he’s trying anything new to try anything new. He is highly educated; he will do his research. Anything ‘new’ he will present will have deep roots in people who come to know Jesus,” said Denefe, who served in the role from 2015 to 2019. She and her family now attend St. Raphael in Springdale.

Denefe said he is committed to listening to his staff, including ways to build their prayer life. They worked together to ensure that every Holy Souls staff member had time each day to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

“What makes him different is that he obviously has a commitment to prayer and sacrifices, fasting and the sacraments and goes above and beyond what is required; and he’s willing to help other people do those basic things,” Denefe said.

Hines said that because of Bishop-elect Pohlmeier “the way is paved” on how to look at faith formation.

“Everyone knows that family faith formation is what we need to work on. He repeatedly cited that parents are the first influence on their children. “A parent who lives the faith is the #1 factor in whether a young person stays in the faith. And there is no number 2. This is the one,” Hines explained.

Evangelism and Joy

Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) had a profound influence on Bishop-elect Pohlmeier and how he approaches faith formation, Hines said.

“He doesn’t go very long without quoting ‘The Joy of the Gospel.’ … He is really imbued with this encyclical of Pope Francis, which speaks of evangelization. One of his phrases” which he used, even during his press conference announcing his election as bishop, “He said that knowing Christ frees us from ‘sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.’ It’s on the first page.

Like a sower of seeds, Bishop-elect Pohlmeier’s impact on faith formation will continue to grow, Hines said.

“The most important thing is that there is no time limit,” Hines said of the lesson he learned from Bishop-elect Pohlmeier. “It is the work of God. … It’s more about what God is doing and are we paying attention to it and being obedient, and not just trying to run a program and trying to make it look good. We really try to help people meet Christ and become disciples.

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