SUMMERVILLE — Members of St. Theresa the Little Flower Church have started on a journey of spiritual formation they hope will lead to greater spiritual growth.
Ten women and eight men attended Christ Renews His Parish, also known as CHRP, a two-day program centered around the spiritual renewal of Catholic parishes, on March 23-25. The event was led by a team from a Florida parish where the program has been active for many years.
“I think everybody had a very personal experience during the weekend,” said Annette Wiley, one of the local event organizers. “The format of the weekend incorporated a lot of time for spiritual growth.”
The initial CHRP session is a 30-hour formation retreat focused on prayer, Scripture, faith-sharing, reconciliation and the Eucharist. Men and women meet separately. Participants attend weekly formation meetings together for several months then organize men’s and women’s retreats for others in the parish. In an ongoing cycle, participants in that retreat will work together and study in preparation for future retreats.
Christ Renews His Parish started with a men’s spiritual renewal event held at Holy Family Parish in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1969. It has spread around the United States and internationally, reaching an estimated 750,000 Catholics, organizers said.
During 2006, 49 new churches signed up for CHRP, encompassing 25 dioceses in 13 states. Officially, Christ Renews His Parish is active in the United States and Italy, but organizers say they have learned of CHRP events being held in Brazil, New Guinea, the Philippines and Ireland.
Wiley, a member of St. Theresa the Little Flower, first learned about CHRP when her son attended a weekend retreat in Ohio in 2005.
“I could see the spiritual growth from the event had quite an impact on him, and I thought this was something our parish could benefit from,” she said.
Wiley discussed the idea with her pastor, Msgr. Edward Lofton, and then traveled to Holy Name of Jesus Church in Melbourne, Fla., with Wendy Mueller to learn more about CHRP.
They asked the training team there to hold a weekend at St. Theresa. The only other regional training team in the Southeast is based in Atlanta.
Wiley said the gathering at St. Theresa was multi-generational, with participants’ ages ranging from the early 30s to late 60s. Single and married people attended.
“It’s always interesting to hear the different speakers, and it’s amazing how you can relate to facets of everybody’s spiritual journeys,” she said. “It’s also encouraging to hear people have had some of the same struggles you have, and witness their courage in overcoming them.”
Tony Tosca is a leader of the men’s group at St. Theresa, and said he participated in CHRP when he lived in Jacksonville, Fla.
“This is a way of renewing the parish not as a one shot thing, but parishioner by parishioner,” Tosca said. “When you go to a lot of retreats, you get an emotional and spiritual high that often goes down on Monday morning when you go back out in the real world. You don’t have that kind of spiritual feeling until the next retreat. But this is different, because the ongoing renewal is done by laity and directly involves the laity.”
Tosca said the themes include life and renewal in Christ, Christian community awareness and discipleship.
“This really gets you involved. Next time you go to Mass, you don’t go through the motions — you identify the people around you not as strangers but as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Tosca said. “The Mass and everything that goes along with it really is personalized.”
Linda Herring said the women’s weekend included in-depth spiritual reflection and testimonies, as well as Scripture reflection using Good News Bibles that were handed out to all participants.
“It was absolutely wonderful to be in a sisterhood of Catholic women, for all of us to be together as Catholics sharing our discipleship,” she said. “We listened to each other’s spiritual testimonies, and were told to respect the person and not interrupt them. Whatever was said was just between the women. That’s a breathtaking experience.”
Herring has taken part in other Christian renewal activities such as Cursillo. What makes CHRP different, she said, is that the ongoing formation encouraged is meant to be focused on one particular place.
“I think we really need something like this,” she said. “We have so many other organizations in the church, but this is really focused on bringing people together, teaching them about how wonderful it is to have Jesus and to have our beliefs, and how to spread the word to others.”
Wiley said another goal is to eventually form a training team based at St. Theresa that can teach the CHRP process to other parishes around the diocese.