Catholic leaders to gather in area

Published 1:26 am Saturday, October 6, 2007

Natchez — A four-day convocation of Catholic priests, deacons and lay ministers for the Diocese of Jackson will be in Natchez at the Eola Hotel, Oct. 15 to 18, according to the Rev. David O’Connor, chairperson of the planning committee and a pastor of St. Mary Basilica and Assumption Church in Natchez. The purpose of the convocation is to bring together all the priests, deacons and lay pastoral administrators of the Jackson diocese for professional development, for reflection on the church’s mission and ministry, and for community building.

This type of meeting is every two years. This year, approximately 60 priests, five ordained deacons, and 20 lay pastoral administrators are expected. According to David O’Connor, “There has not been any church event in Natchez that has attracted this many priests, possibly since 1937 when the centenary of the founding of the diocese was celebrated.” Bishop Joseph Latino will formally open the convocation on Oct. 15 with an overview of pastoral ministry in the Jackson diocese.

Father Elvin Sunds, the vicar general for the Jackson diocese and a member of the planning committee, said the theme for this convocation is “Pastoral Ministry in the Jackson Diocese in 2007.” The convocation will address topics such as challenges facing those in pastoral ministry, spiritual development of the clergy, evangelization initiatives, faith formation, lay leadership in ministry and the interface between social justice and liturgy. Father Sunds added, “For the first time, this convocation is inviting lay persons who hold administrative positions in pastoral ministry and is seeking their insights.”

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Father Kent Bowlds, a member of the planning committee and diocesan staff person responsible for the recruitment of seminarians, said, “The inclusion of lay ministers for the first time highlights the fact that declining clergy numbers are now being offset by increasing numbers of trained lay pastoral ministers. The Jackson diocese encompasses 65 Mississippi counties from the Tennessee state line to the Louisiana state line, and church ministry in this vast area is carried out in approximately 75 congregations and now about 20 of these congregations are under the pastoral leadership of a non-ordained minister — lay person or religious sister.”

The planning committee members for this convocation are: Fathers David O’Connor (St. Mary Basilica, Natchez), Lenin Vargas (St. Francis of Assisi, Madison), Matthew Simmons (St. John the Baptist, Crystal Springs), Elvin Sunds (Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Jackson), Gerry Hurley (St. Jude Church, Pearl) and Greg Plata (St. Francis of Assisi, Greenwood).

Ruth McWilliams, a native of Natchez and program coordinator for St. Mary Basilica, said, “The Natchez congregations — Assumption Church, Holy Family Church, and St. Mary — are eagerly looking forward to the influx of clergy and lay administrators from all over the diocese and are planning social activities to make their time in Natchez a memorable experience for all the participants. Some guided tours are arranged in the city of Natchez. St. Mary Basilica will host a banquet honoring those in ordained ministry; Holy Family’s African-American choir will present their performance Southern Road to Freedom, and the Assumption congregation will host a theme luncheon.”

The Tuesday evening worship service will be followed by a banquet, hosted by the people of St. Mary congregation, honoring those in ordained ministry; the Wednesday evening dinner at the Eola Hotel will feature Holy Family’s Gospel Choir; and Thursday’s service will be followed by a Cajun-themed luncheon hosted by the people of Assumption parish. The luncheon on Wednesday will be at Twin Oaks to remember the life and work of Pierce and Cornelia Connelly who lived there in the 1830s.

The convocation chairperson, David O’Connor, explained that the participants will use a theological reflection process that will make it possible for everyone present to share their insights about pastoral ministry. In the final session on Thursday morning, participants will have an opportunity of developing and writing their ministry plan for their respective situations.