Ministries compliment the goals of the Pastoral Plan

By Catholic Spirit Staff

Heading west from Wimberley to Dripping Springs nestled along the rolling hills of Ranch Road 12 is St. Martin de Porres Parish, a community affected by the changing demographics of Austin and a growing population. Not only is the parish growing and changing, but also parishioners’ needs and concerns are greater and more diverse, said Father Charlie Garza. 
To meet those needs, parish leaders and staff needed training and support from the business management sector while still rooted in our Catholic faith. In August 2015, Father Garza and a team of parishioners attended an Amazing Parish conference in Denver to discover ways to “create a dynamic parish focused on evangelization and discipleship.” The Amazing Parish movement began in March 2013 and has been influenced greatly by Pope Francis and his message and writings, particularly the “Joy of the Gospel.”
By the end of the conference, Father Garza and his team had decided to become an “amazing parish.” The amazing parish process identifies seven traits and Father Garza said the keys to working on the seven traits are prayer and the development of a leadership team. 
Working together with Father Garza, the team at St. Martin de Porres identified a number of opportunities and decided to focus their efforts on the increasing number of young families, on involving young people in the liturgy and parish life and on forming leaders – all of which are objectives in the diocesan Pastoral Plan. Father Garza and his leadership team have developed a systematic and cohesive approach to the celebration of Sunday liturgy and formation by offering a series of homilies with themes that are explored further throughout parish meetings and programs. 
For example, the current theme is discipleship. Father Garza draws out discipleship from the Sunday readings and then explores the topic in depth through the parish Bible study, which helps people grow in their call to be Jesus’ disciples. The leadership team meets twice a month and strategically works at integrating these themes in all of parish life thus continuing to grow as an amazing parish. 
Charlene O’Connell, a member of the Pastoral Plan core team, said much of what the Amazing Parish movement teaches is based on encounter and transformation, which are the key elements of the diocesan Pastoral Plan. 
“Through the Amazing Parish process, St. Martin de Porres is implementing the Pastoral Plan,” she said. “It’s not two separate things, it’s one big goal and that is to help people encounter Christ and thus transform their lives,” she said.
Father Garza has noticed an increase in parishioner participation, especially among the Hispanic parishioners. Besides the training and continued support of the Amazing Parish movement, the experience opened the door for Father Garza to discover other resources such as Divine Renovation by Father James Mallon, which offers concrete steps for how a parish can become a missionary community. The key to becoming a vibrant parish is to empower the laity, to focus on the Sunday liturgy and prayer and always look for those resources to become a better pastoral leader, Father Garza said. 
Traveling east out of Round Rock on Highway 79 to Taylor, the landscape changes to a rural town with a parish nestled near Highway 95 and the railroad tracks. Father Jairo Sandoval Pliego came to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in 2013 as their new pastor with a vision for collaboration and empowering the laity. 
His personal operating philosophy is “We –– the staff and parishioners –– are together celebrating the sacraments, growing in their faith and living as Jesus’ disciples,” he said.
He stands on the shoulders of the pastors who have previously served Our Lady of Guadalupe, who evangelized and energized the parishioners. Formed as a Dominican, Father Pliego believes the focus of parish life is the Sunday liturgy and all other ministry flows from and is connected to Sunday. Father Pliego helped the community understand the meaning of the liturgy, the roles of the liturgical ministers and especially the importance of good liturgical music. 
“This is another wonderful example of how parish leaders and the community are already implementing the diocesan Pastoral Plan, particularly the objectives under the first goal, which is formation and spiritual nourishment,” O’Connell said. 
In the spring of 2014, the parish began offering the Basic Teachings courses provided by the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life. “Formation is the key to a mature Catholic faith and living our baptismal call to follow Christ,” he said. 
Father Pliego hopes to have every parishioner participate in these courses and offers them in a yearly cycle. He said formation and organization build confidence among the parishioners, who know they can count on him and the staff to provide for their spiritual and formation needs. They can also count on their pastor and the staff to look for ways to improve as they continuously assess the effectiveness of their work through weekly staff meetings. 
Last November, parish leaders studied the Pastoral Plan and see it as a tool that clarifies the parish’s mission and unifies the whole community. In addition to the Sunday liturgy, the parish is also focused on prayer, formation of the children, youth and parents and inviting more people to serve in parish ministries. 
Parish religious education classes begin with the children gathered for prayer and reflection on the Sunday readings. Parishioners pray for Pope Francis’ and Bishop Vásquez’ prayer intentions at every Mass. The whole community prays for the children and especially the high schools students preparing to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation. 
The community also has a unique festival called the Spring Religious Education Festival, which raises the funds needed to provide books and materials for the religious education program, thereby not charging fees to the families. The new parish education center is the fruit of this parish’s united commitment to the Sunday liturgy and formation of all parishioners. The parish also hosts a Ministry Fair that has grown each year with more people coming forward to serve in parish ministries, Father Pliego said. 
On Thanksgiving Day, the parish will host a Thanksgiving Dinner where Father Pliego hopes to show his appreciation for the parishioners’ commitment to ministry and service to the community. This year he expects to host more than 350 parishioners.
For more information on the diocesan Pastoral Plan visit www.austindioceseplan.org. For details on the next Amazing Parish conference visit www.amazingparish.org. St. Martin de Porres Parish in Dripping Springs is online at www.stmartindp.org and 
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Taylor is online at www.ologtaylor.org.