St. Francis Church hopes to reach Hispanic population with Disciples in Mission

WALHALLA — A mission church in Oconee County is leading an effort to include more Hispanic Catholics in the Disciples in Mission program.

“Disciples in Mission is helping to develop leadership among the Hispanic population,” said Father Bill Edens, a Paulist priest at St. Francis Church in Walhalla.

St. Francis is one of two missions of St. Andrew Church in Clemson. The other is St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 15 percent of Walhalla residents are Hispanic or Latino.

Edens met with six St. Francis Hispanic leaders during a recent Disciples in Mission parish leadership meeting at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors.

Disciples in Mission was launched last year by Bishop Robert J. Baker, a year he declared the Year of Evangelization, an ongoing theme in the Diocese of Charleston.

It is a ministry of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association and has been implemented in more than 30 dioceses nationwide. In South Carolina, approximately 45 parishes are participating.

Father Edens said he met with the diocesan missions team about broadening the program to better accommodate Hispanic Catholics.

“We pushed the envelope with the diocese, because at the first meeting everything was in English,” he said. “I sat there and translated.”

Since then, Edens has led separate leadership meetings with the Piedmont Deanery Hispanic group, gathering in a separate room simultaneously with the English-speaking session.

“From the beginning, I wanted to make sure that the Hispanic community was on board, instead of saying ‘it’s all planned, now here’s where you fit,'” he said.

Thousands of Catholics from across the diocese have been citing the prayer for Disciples in Mission in recent weeks as they prepare to gather in small groups in private homes and at church to promote their faith through Scripture reading and evangelization.

The diocese is wrapping up meetings and training sessions with parish leadership teams this month. Those teams are, in turn, returning to their parishes to put together smaller teams that will be signing up parishioners for the small groups that will gather during Lent.

Each parish is also scheduling a “Parish Reflection Day” for those who participate in the small faith groups and anyone else who wants to participate. That event will be used to develop a parish profile.

“It will tell you what your parish looks like,” said Karen Dietz, diocesan co-director of Disciples in Mission.

The profile will be used to foster each parish’s evangelizing mission, Dietz said.

Each parish also will annually evaluate its Disciples in Mission program through a parish report, which will be forwarded to the diocese and the parish pastor.

“This is important for those who will follow us,” Dietz said.

Leadership team members from the Piedmont Deanery said that while there’s still plenty of work ahead, they are encouraged by the effort so far.

“The diocesan leadership team is very well organized, and it’s nice to see the standardization across the diocese so that everyone can be assured of being trained the same and hearing the same message,” said Sue Zedek, a parishioner at Prince of Peace.

“The group has remained consistent. The numbers have held,” she said.

Christian LeBlanc, a member of the leadership team from Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, said he hopes the program helps move adult Catholics to the next level in their faith journeys.

“We need to stop acting like a passive child Catholic and start acting like active adult Catholics,” LeBlanc said.