Pax Christi to hold conference for parishes

Growth-logo-9-17-15-sBy Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

Father David Harris, a former Baptist minister who became a Catholic priest in 2008, still evangelizes with the passion associated with his Baptist roots.

He leads three parishes right now — known collectively as the Pax Christi Collaborative — and one of them, St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Schnitzelburg, is the fastest growing parish in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Father Harris believes fervently that if parishes keep Jesus at the heart of their work — and show him to the world — people will be attracted.

On Oct. 10, Father Harris and his pastoral team will host a Parish Growth Conference at Our Mother of Sorrows Church’s cafeteria, 770 Eastern Parkway. The day-long conference will include speakers, discussions and an opportunity for sharing. Lunch will be provided and the event is free.

Father Harris is quick to point out that the conference doesn’t aim literally to help parishes grow in size or membership. The term “growth” in the conference title, he said, is about fostering “thriving and dynamic” parishes. Once that happens, people will come, he said.

“The new evangelization is about renewing, reviving that relationship with Jesus. It’s second to none,” said Father Harris during a recent interview. “St. John Paul II said the answers to our questions are not found in a program nor in a way of thinking, but in a person, the person of Jesus Christ.

“If you go back to the fundamental truth, this life is about a relationship with Jesus,” he said. “The responsibility of a parish is to help make his disciples.”

Sacraments, prayer, ritual, all of the trappings of the faith, he said, “serve to facilitate that relationship.”

Father Harris said he hopes the conference includes discussions, faith sharing and questions. And all are welcome, he said, “anyone who’s interested in parish growth.”

“We want to hear testimonies about how a parish has touched their lives,” he said. “There’s so much to learn from each other.”

The renaissance at St. Elizabeth — and his two other parishes, St. Therese and Our Mother of Sorrows — has been fed both by young adults and older couples who have been away from the church for a while, Father Harris said.

“We’re finding that people really want to be a part of a community and grow in that relationship with Jesus.”

And it’s been key in the Pax Christi Collaborative, he said, to provide ministries that are relevant to the people.

His parishes have started providing care for children during Masses and cry rooms.

The Pax Christi Facebook page frequently features images and brief stories about individual parishioners. It’s called People of Pax Christi and it’s based on the Humans of New York photoblog series. One profile — depicting an elderly parishioner — was shared widely beyond parish boundaries and was viewed by 7,300 people.

The parishes also have committed to major outreach projects that help parishioners live their faith, Father Harris noted.

These projects, he said, are like “little light bulbs” illuminating the parishes.

“People want to give, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” he said. “How much more can you be like Jesus than to show a preferential option for the people in need? It feels really good.”

Currently, the parish is raising money — about $14,000 — to dig a well and build a pump house on a property in South Louisville. The well will provide water for 200 garden plots to feed 800 Vietnamese refugees, he said. The project is a collaboration between the Pax Christi parishes, St. John Vianney Church in South Louisville and Catholic Charities’ Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program.

A trivia night to raise money for the well project is set for Sept. 19 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the gym at Our Mother of Sorrows. Register at www.paxchristilou.org.

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