By Fr Dwight Merrick, Parish Priest
The La Horquetta parish comprises the villages of La Horquetta, Carapo, and Cumuto. From January 1 to March 8, at the largest of the three congregations, La Horquetta, there has been a sudden increase in attendance both at the Saturday and Sunday Masses of approximately 54 per cent and 35 per cent respectively. This account tracks the story of what has happened.
The introduction of a new parish priest in mid-2017 meant new ideas and a new focus for the entire parish. Contemporary literature on Church revival, Church renewal and evangelisation became regular topics shared during homilies, along with best practices of parishes around the world where renewal is taking place. After much study of what works from Divine Renovation, Intentional Discipleship, and John Paul II and the New Evangelization, Life in the Spirit seminars for adults and a weekend seminar for the youth took the parish to the end of 2017.
The following two years, 2018 and 2019, saw the implementation of several strategies described in the above literature in addition to initiatives of the Archdiocese. Our parishioners, for instance, were challenged to take us from two to four choirs. Soon enough, the youths and a few men got these two and more choirs going.
Though inconvenienced by a closed church under repair from late 2018 to Easter 2019, our congregation rose to the challenges of conducting more Life in the Spirit seminars and Alpha sessions at each of the three villages, as well as Alpha in Spanish for our refugee population at Carapo.
At the La Horquetta community, a year and a half of Monday night formation classes evolved into six months of house Masses at each of the villages, even weekly at times.
Focus on the kerygma
Crusades at bars located at Cumuto Junction and Little Coora Junction and Yee Ken’s Hardware as well as ‘evangelisation Masses’ in the yards of parishioners also helped build momentum. Interesting as well, were the Divine Mercy prayer sessions through the streets of La Horquetta where murders had taken place.
Following the Archdiocesan recommendation to enhance our Homilies, Hymns, and Hospitality at the parish, all three of our communities, following two workshops by the National Hospitality Ministry of the Archdiocese, formed hospitality ministries and began providing refreshments after weekend Masses. Several workshops were conducted for the lectors at La Horquetta community. A few lay persons including two young adults, were trained for Lay Ministry. The new choirs particularly, introduced new hymns. Even gospel artiste Jaron Nurse’s ‘Fed up’(aka ‘Living in a gunman town’) was used to challenge the adults to listen well before condemning all youth music.
Focus on the kerygma and evangelistic preaching became the norm for all funerals and central to the Sunday homilies. Lent 2019 saw a special emphasis to engage outdoor crusades within La Horquetta, including the pan yard.
Getting out of the La Horquetta parish hall and returning to a new Church of the Resurrection, at La Horquetta for Easter 2019, proved to be shot in the arm for our members. Getting into their new church at Cumuto village, also did wonders for increasing attendance there, lifting their spirits and restoring a sense of pride in an attractive place of worship.
Use of the charisms of the Spirit occasionally after Communion at weekend Masses and the children doing the intercessory prayers, were all appreciated additions to the liturgy at La Horquetta.
Introduced to the Jacob Hill squatting community around mid-2019, it soon evolved into Saturday 5 p.m. Holy Mass from September 2019 up to the present.
As we got to the end of the year 2019, parishioners were challenged to share brief testimonies with someone sitting close by, on their experience of Jesus, God’s love or some related topic. Parishioners were also briefed on what was coming at the start of 2020.
The start of the year 2020 therefore, saw the parish already well prepared for a course on the New Evangelisation and the teaching of the Bare Bones method of evangelisation.
Increase in Mass attendance
What has happened from New Year’s Day to the present, however, could not have been predicted. Quoting heavily from the text John Paul II and the New Evangelization, weekend homilies were punctuated with the words of Pope Paul V1 and John Paul II in the encyclicals Lumen Gentium and Redemptores Missio.
The homilies explained the strategy of John Paul II in particular, when he challenged the entire Church to adopt this new evangelisation as the mechanism through which the Church can expect a new springtime in the new millennium. And then it happened! We noticed an immediate increase in Mass attendance. By the second weekend in January, it was just too obvious to ignore, so I counted and found that there were at least 170 persons on Saturday and 130 approximately on Sunday at the La Horquetta church.
On subsequent weeks these numbers also seemed to increase so that by the end of January 2020, we counted 195 and 130 persons respectively, and by March 2020, 200 and 135 persons at the Sunday and Saturday Masses respectively at La Horquetta.
Noticeably, Lent has not changed these numbers, though previously there were increased numbers for Lent in this parish. On the other hand, the smaller communities at Cumuto and Carapo from January to March 2020, seemed not to experience any noticeable changes to their attendance of 90 and 60 persons respectively.
Starting on the first Sunday of the year, workshops were held at each village to allow parishioners to clarify their understanding and eventually learn how to evangelise another person.
By the start of Lent, the evangelisation course and workshops were completed, just in time for the sending out of our parishioners to implement door-to-door evangelisation These workshops at La Horquetta each attracted about 55 persons including some youth.
At Carapo and Cumuto, parishioners also turned out for their workshop sessions and seemed genuinely interested in going out into the communities of our parish.
Yet, it was our 25 youth group members at Tamana RC School for Carnival retreat, who were the first to engage the evangelisation of about 40 families at Tamana village.
Learning the method over several hours of Saturday morning, and going out during the afternoon, these youth reported how welcoming the villagers were and their surprise on seeing Catholic youth doing this.
On the first Sunday of Lent, some 77 parishioners from all three villages turned up for our first effort to visit homes in Phase Three, La Horquetta. Forty-four of them went out to homes and 33 stayed behind in intercession.
On the second Sunday of Lent, with several parishioners off on pilgrimage, our numbers still numbered 48, yet we were able to complete most of the Phase Two community at La Horquetta.
Thus far, we met some 30 homes with non-practising Catholics from Phases Two and Three. Groups sent out to meet people were equipped with rosaries and a bookmark detailing the kerygma of the gospel, to distribute to persons they met.
Several persons expressed interest in meeting with the parish priest. A few Catholic homes were discovered to have several children who did not receive their sacraments. But most significant, visited Catholics expressed encouragement in continuing this visiting of homes as did one Pentecostal minister and several others belonging to non-Catholic denominations.
We have only just begun, and while we are learning as we move along, we feel challenged to keep serving our community and our Church in this way.
The interruption of our evangelisation efforts by the COVID-19 pandemic, while slowing down our progress, gives us time to prepare so much better for our resumption in God’s own timing