Catholics ‘Arise Together in Christ’

Program designed to strengthen, deepen faith

From left: Sister Linda LaMagna, evangelization coordinator for the diocese, Donna Stoy and Chris Ringkamp, discuss the “Arise Together in Christ” program designed to help Catholics strengthen and deepen their faith. Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec

Catholics in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown are preparing to take part in a program designed to strengthen and deepen their faith.

Called Arise Together in Christ, the program will involve five six-week programs spread over the next three years that will feature faith sharing. It is based on the Christian practice of divine reading or reading under the eyes of God until one’s heart is touched. Then, participants in small groups are invited to express what the Scripture means to them.

“It is a time to renew us and refresh us,” said Sister Linda LaMagna, evangelization coordinator for the diocese. “It’s not a Bible study. It’s not a discussion group. It’s faith sharing and allowing Scripture to speak to our hearts personally.”

She illustrated how the sessions will work by giving the example of the biblical story of a blind begger named Bartimaeus, recorded in the Gospel of Mark.

In the account, Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus as he passes along the road. Others rebuke the beggar and tell him to keep quiet. Yet Bartimaeus shouts for Jesus all the more. He gets Jesus’ attention, who then turns and asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus responds to the need by healing Bartimaeus.

Sister Linda said the story might speak to members of the group differently. One person might respond to the people who try to quiet Bartimaeus while another may focus on Jesus’ question.

The theme is “Encountering Christ Today” and sessions will begin the week of Oct. 7 at various times and places to accommodate parishioners’ schedules.

Sessions with other themes will be held during the Lenten seasons in 2019 and 2020 as well as the autumns of 2019 and 2020.

In advance of the spiritual renewal and evangelization program’s beginning, a commissioning service for diocesan coordinators, teams, small group facilitators and interested parishioners will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Saint Francis University with Bishop Mark Bartchak presiding.

Parishes are encouraging members to sign up for this fall’s small groups at Masses this weekend. Sister Linda said participation in the program, a ministry of Renew International in New Jersey, is high.

Tony DeGol, diocese spokesman, said about 85 percent of the churches are participating. The diocese includes Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.

“Renew International said it is the highest percentage of participation by any diocese it has worked with. It is quite phenomenal,” said Chris Ringkamp, a member of the diocesan team for the program and a small group facilitator at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lakemont.

The opportunity to take part in the experience is being offered to all ages and walks of life.

Youth attending religious education programs in their parishes, students in the parochial schools, as well as college students at Mount Aloysius, Saint Francis University and Penn State Altoona will take part in Arise Together in Christ. Materials for elementary age children are designed for them and offer an opportunity to share with their families.

Programs will be held in senior facilities, such as Garvey Manor and St. Leonard’s Home, and some are even scheduled at prisons.

“It’s a time to let Jesus renew us by his very words,” Sister Linda said.

The Scripture reading during each session is read twice. The second time is called “divine listening.”

It is a time to consider what the Scripture is saying to my heart,” she said, “and what do I want to say back to God?”

Work on the program began in late 2017 and early 2018 after the diocese contacted Renew International, an organization that fosters spiritual renewal in the Catholic tradition.

Staff from the organization assisted the diocese in developing and training a diocesan team along with coordinators and parish teams at each church as they did preparation work for the small group sessions. Recently, facilitators were trained to monitor the small groups.

As a member of the diocesan team, Ringkamp said he and its other members serve as liaisons between Renew International and the parish team.

“We provide support to Sister Linda and help to spread out her workload,” he said.

As a facilitator, Ringkamp has been speaking at Masses and encouraging parishioners to sign up for the small groups. He said 15 small groups are planned at St. John the Evangelist Parish with the hope of having six to eight people in a group.

He said for participants, including himself, “it is about sharing how Scripture touched me without anyone judging me.”

“Our diocese has been through a difficult time,” Ringkamp said. “Arise is an invitation for all the lay Catholics to shine a light in the darkness which has been hanging over our local Catholic church for the past 20 to 30 years.”

Ringkamp said the small groups’ participants will also discuss what they will do with the information they have received from the Scripture and how to act on it.

It might motivate them to pray, fast or take action to help somebody, he said.

Donna Stoy is also a facilitator, as well as a coordinator for St. Thomas Aquinas in Ashville and a diocesan team member.

She said the parish is partnering with St. Monica in Chest Springs, St. Joan of Arc in Fallentimber and St. Augustine in Dysart to give parishioners more options in times and days to attend the sessions.

Stoy said she is encouraging people to attend by explaining that the sessions are based on their faith in Jesus Christ.

“It is the relationship that matters most,” she said.

Stoy added that the Scriptures used are based on the Gospels.

“Anytime you relate to the gospel message, it’s going to strengthen your relationship with Jesus,” she said.

Stoy said even people who don’t feel comfortable sharing should come anyway.

“If you want to go quietly and listen, that’s perfectly fine. “No one is forced to share,” she said, “but by the end of the session, they usually do.”

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