By: Jennifer King
I come to Church. Give me Jesus. Then I’m out of here. Father, keep it quick. I have places to be.
How many times have you heard or seen this in your parish?
When Fr. Joseph Espaillat was first named pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in the Bronx, he spent a year observing the life of the parish. After the first year, an immediate need stood out: there was a lack of community. Mass was mostly about getting in and getting out. Fr. Espaillat didn’t believe that was the Church Jesus came to establish. He was bothered by what he observed and prayed, “Lord, show me what to do. How can I bring in a new fire to your people?”
“ChristLife allows us to come to Church and ‘be’ Church. Have a meal together, pray together, and just be around each other and enjoy each other’s presence,” remarked Fr. Espaillat, “which is what we should be doing.”
St. Anthony first ran ChristLife by incorporating RCIA students with the larger church community—the old and the new coming together as family. Their ChristLife team thought it would be a good way for the people who wanted to become Catholic to meet those that were already at the parish and they hoped it would help build the Church community.
As the 7-week journey progressed, people started opening up and sharing their stories. They were coming to realize how much they are loved by God and that they have a church community to support them.
Everyone who participated in ChristLife through RCIA came into the Catholic Church and they have remained engaged in the life of the parish. They are on fire with the love of God. “They’re the ones who are trying to lead groups. They’re the first ones cleaning up dishes. They’re the first one cleaning up tables. They’re helping out with the second round of ChristLife now,”
Fr. Espaillat shared, “They’re really just on fire for the Lord. Vibrant. You see them joyful. You see them full of hope. [They are] trying to tell people about the love of Jesus and about their conversion...”
“Finally, Father has help!”
St. Anthony of Padua parishioners are coming to realize that it’s not only Father’s job or Sister’s job to be Jesus’ hands and feet. They’re realizing it’s their job as a disciple of Jesus Christ to support the parish and to go out to bring Jesus into the larger community.