The Magnolia State: an introduction workshop strengthens ministries

The Magnolia State: an introduction workshop strengthens ministries
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Recently, nearly 40 participants immersed themselves in an Acculturation Workshop for three days at Lake Tiak-O’Khata in Louisville. This process of enculturation is sponsored periodically for those who have recently arrived and are serving or are about to serve in parishes and ministries across the Diocese of Jackson.
Calling upon their extensive experience and interpersonal contacts, Msgr. Elvin Sunds, Vicar General, and Sister Donna Gunn, CSJ, facilitated this event in order to better prepare those who are living and serving for the first time in pastoral ministries in Mississippi.
The basic assumption is that the history of the Catholic Church in Mississippi is inextricably bound to the state’s unique culture and story.
In my nearly seven months as the bishop of Jackson, I have encountered many amazing people of faith throughout the expanse of our diocese laboring in the vineyard of the Lord. Many proudly call Mississippi their home, and many have come from elsewhere and are now adopted citizens of the Magnolia State.
Although the Catholic Church even today comprises a small percentage of the total population of the state, we certainly pack a punch in ways that matter. The essence of our story must be imparted to all newcomers who arrive on the scene who possess a heart and mind open to God and a profound desire to serve the people entrusted to them.
However, we have not lived here, and the Acculturation Workshop presented important strands of the state’s culture and history to better facilitate the learning curve.
Among the participants at the workshop were our three newly ordained priests who are serving as sssistant pastors. New on the scene are religious sisters who will be serving in such diverse places as Amory and Mound Bayou, and they too were grateful for the opportunity to gather with other servants of the Lord who made up the group of participants.
In addition, seven priests from dioceses and religious orders in India, who have arrived within the past two years, also benefited greatly from the workshop. In turn, they took the opportunity to educate the participants about the Catholic Church in India and pointed out some of the significant differences between serving in India and in Mississippi. Some of our diocesan staff took part in the workshop or were among the presenters.
I, too, attended the workshop and remain inspired to have met for the first time the newly arrived, or to have deepened already existing relationships among the participants. These are gifted, dedicated, and generous women and men, lay, religious and ordained, some older and some younger, who want to unite their lives with the people of Mississippi with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, and do so in humility and gratitude.
I offer this overview of the participants so that many active members in our churches and ministries, miles apart from one another, can be encouraged by the unceasing flow of people whom the Lord continues to send.
The presenters throughout the workshop were people who have lived in Mississippi all of their lives or those who came to serve and intend to remain, and those who arrived many years ago, and are now at the point of transition from ministry here among our people back to their religious communities in other parts of the country.
Although in some instances they are sad to be leaving, they are inspired to see that they can pass on the torch to the next generation of witnesses with their undying love for Jesus Christ, and with their unquenchable hunger and thirst for greater justice and peace in our world. Blessed are they indeed because they are God’s children. The following list of topics gives an overview of the thrust of the workshop: the political and economic aspects of Mississippi, a Civil Rights panel, Afro-Americans in Mississippi today, Latino culture in Mississippi today, Mississippi and Education, an historical perspective, Public Education today, “On the outside looking in” a perspective of those who have spent many years in various ministries, Mississippi’s artistic legacy and landscape and growing up white and Catholic in Mississippi. I think that y’all who read the Mississippi Catholic would agree that this workshop was an enriching event for all newcomers with much to reflect upon in order to better serve in the Diocese of Jackson, the Crossroads of the South.
The Catholic Church is nearly 2000 years old and we cherish the tradition of which we are the latest generation. Likewise, within our universal body of Christ, there is a tapestry of people’s and cultures, and part of the essence of the Church is to build bridges among diverse groups in order to further the Kingdom of God in our world.
The Acculturation Workshop promoted solidarity among its participants to embrace together the mission and ministries of our diocesan community. In conclusion, we recall the inspired words from the letter to the Ephesians (2,19-22). So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows in to a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.