St. Oscar Romero parishioners look to the future

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

St. Oscar Romero parishioners look to the future

Parishioners from St. Oscar Romero Parish break into small groups to map out and discuss future goals, new ministries and needs of the united parish on Aug. 30, 2023. The parish formed from Holy Cross-Immaculate Heart of Mary and Sts. Joseph and Michael the Archangel in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in July 2021. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Nicolas Martinez talks with another parishioner before the start of the meeting on Aug. 30, 2023. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Carmelo Mendez, pastor, explains what he hopes parishioners will accomplish at the meeting. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Javier Pineda listens to presentations along with parishioners. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners from Oscar Romero Parish break into small groups. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners make presentations to those attending the meeting. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Parishioners at St. Oscar Romero Parish in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood are dreaming about what they want their newly merged parish to be, and they recently held a series of convocations to talk about it.

St. Oscar Romero was born out of the unification of three parishes: Holy Cross-Immaculate Heart of Mary, 1740 W. 46th St.; St. Joseph, 1723 W. 48th St.; and St. Michael the Archangel, 4825 S. Damen Ave.

The discernment process of Renew My Church occurred at the parishes during the COVID-19 pandemic, when churches were not gathering for in-person events, said Father Carmelo Mendez, pastor.

That made the transition process challenging, he said.

“There was a lot of resentment at first,” Mendez said.

So when it came to talking about the future of the parish, the staff and parish leaders wanted to involve all of the parishioners. They adopted a model common among Latin American Catholics of “see, judge, act,” and developed a three-week convocation that focused on one word per night, he said. Most of the parishioners are of Mexican descent and the convocation took place in Spanish.

“We thought of a parish convocation, we call it a parish assembly, where we invited everybody who wanted to participate to gather in three different evenings,” he said.

Over 100 people attended each gathering, which began with parish staff serving dinner so people could come straight from work. When the people broke into groups, the staff stayed apart so they would not influence the discussions, he said.

“We told them that if the priest kind of sets the direction of the parish, most of the time it ends when the priest leaves, because the direction is kind of led by one person and his team,” Mendez said. “But if the people get involved in the process, they will take ownership.”

The first evening, parishioners brainstormed about the kind of parish that they want to have. They summarized it into five pillars — unity, servant, open to all, welcoming and spiritual.

The second evening, a theologian and Bible scholar from Mexico offered guidance for the process using the documents of the church. He took the pillars and connected them clearly to the universal church, Mendez said.

“I liked it that at the end he kind of said, ‘You’re asking me kind of what you profess in the church. We want a one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.’ Like the [Apostles’] Creed. One is because we were united, Catholic because we are open to all and apostolic is sending and serving and holy is we want a spiritual church with deep roots in prayer and Holy Mass,” Mendez explained. 

The last gathering focused on short- and long-term goals for the parish.

One of the short-term goals parishioners identified was the need to have the same worship aids at all three church sites. Presently, each site is using different aids or no aids.

“They really thought of, ‘We need to do something more concrete and we need to evaluate in one more year to see how we are approaching it,’” Mendez said.

Now, he and the parish staff are developing ways to communicate these pillars to the wider parish community.

“In the future, when I leave, when I move or am transferred, they took the ownership to say that this is the church that we want to have,” he said.

Going forward, everything the parish does must speak to one or more of the pillars, he added.

“I’m really excited,” Mendez said. “The laity, men and women, they said, ‘This is the church we want. OK, let’s form it together. Let’s build it together,’” he said.

Deacon Javier Pineda said the response and participation in the convocation was positive.

“Everybody is getting a little bit of what they want. And they also know that it cannot be the same old stuff. There has to be a lot of cooperation,” he said.

Pineda said he was very encouraged by the gatherings.

“I think it was a new beginning for us,” he said. “It’s going to take time, but I think we made progress.”

“I honestly feel like since [the unification], this is one of the moments where I felt the most joy in the community,” said Gabriel Lara, a parishioner who works with the parish as part of his full-time job in the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership. The parish is a member of the coalition.

“It’s a slow process and I feel like people want action quicker, but I feel like people are now feeling that yeah, it makes sense to spend more time seeing and then reflecting and discerning where God is calling us,” Lara said.

Since the convocation, he has met with several parish groups to talk about the process and they are looking at the gifts and the talents they can bring to church so they can identify what may be missing and to plan actions for the future.

The convocations gave him hope, he said.

“The way I see it, making the parish stronger is going to have a lot of ownership from the leaders,” Lara said. “For me, it speaks a lot to the pope’s words of people being protagonists of the change they want to see. I do see this allowing for that to happen.”


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