BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Joe Bland, the director of evangelization for the Diocese of Owensboro, has an important question for the people of the diocese.
“Who’s not in the pews anymore?” he asked, in a Nov. 8 interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic.
There is always a reason why someone no longer comes to church, he explained.
Maybe they were hurt, or perhaps they “woke up one day and realized no one would miss them if they never came back to church,” said Bland.
This question is a key part of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Year of Accompany, which begins on Dec. 2, 2018 with the first Sunday of Advent. The Year of Accompany follows 2017-2018’s Year of Encounter, which kicked off the diocese’s four-year Living as Missionary Disciples initiative.
The initiative closely follows the “Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization” document developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis and released in spring 2017.
“The Gospel passage which sums up ‘accompany’ is the Road to Emmaus,” said Bland. “Jesus meets the disciples where they’re at,” and later he reveals himself to them, “in Communion – the breaking of the bread.”
Bland said that in this coming year, “we’re called to reach out to those on the periphery of our own parishes.”
Bishop William F. Medley said that if the story of the Road to Emmaus is the model for accompaniment, “how do we live that out?”
“That’s ultimately what evangelization is; that’s ultimately what missionary discipleship is,” the bishop said to the WKC on Nov. 7.
Bland said there will be a heavy emphasis on listening and healing during the Year of Accompany. He said it is coincidental that the year follows the onset of the Catholic Church’s 2018 sex abuse crisis, and that he had intended a focus on healing even before the crisis broke.
But the need for healing could not be more appropriate, he said: “The sheep have been maimed and wounded, and we have to help them heal.”
Bland said he is working on bringing in various apostolates to lead different types of healing retreats, and will also organize trainings for parish-based “prayer teams.”
Prayer teams will not provide counseling or spiritual direction, said Bland, but will offer a listening ear, and people to walk alongside and pray with, if desired.
Bland will also launch “accompaniment-themed” workshops to empower and train people of the diocese in practical ways of accompaniment. He said he will also continue providing materials to parishes to keep up their monthly holy hours – an initiative that began during the previous Year of Encounter.
Likewise, Bland’s hope is that these prayer teams and healing retreats will continue after the Year of Accompany is over.
“This is neighbor walking with neighbor, neighbor praying with neighbor, one family member praying for another family member,” said Bland.
Originally printed in the December 2018 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2018 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic