A graceful day for His Grace
Inspirations: Prayer ‘cells’ to revive ailing parishes
Fr Eugene Ahern, left, with visitors from St Eustorgio, Milan (from left): Fr Pi Gi Perini, Adriana Castelli, Luigi Mariani, Matelda Pellini and Fr Zbigniew Zalewski, who have come to help set Sydney parishes alight
It sounds like it belongs to the world of politics, but the ‘parish cell’ set a dying Milan parish alight. The method could do the same for Sydney. Marilyn Kerjean writes
A Catholic Weekly article on the method of Parish Cells of Evangelisation (How a Priest Revived a Dying Parish, CW 19/5) attracted about 80 people, laity and priests, from as far as Canberra and Wollongong to an information night at the Catholic Adult Education Centre, Lidcombe.
They listened to Fr Pi Gi Perini, a parish priest visiting from Milan with some of his parishioners, explain how the method works and how it can be successful here.
A second information session for priests at St Mary’s Cathedral Hall was also well attended.
To Fr Pi Gi’s delight the notion of adopting a simple structure of developing small parish groups, called ‘cells’, that is enlivening parishes around the world, was received with much enthusiasm at both of the sessions, .
He said his parish of St Eustorgio, Milan, had formerly had a “quite dull spiritual life” with low Mass attendance only by the elderly.
But it became “on fire” after parishioners embraced the method of parish cells Fr Pi Gi had seen working in a parish in Canada.
Now around 1500 people of all ages are actively involved in cells in his parish, and many have been inspired to take up voluntary community work outside the parish as well.
Fr John Flader, director of the Catholic Adult Education Centre, said although it had been a “fantastic night” and there was a lot of enthusiasm about parish cells it could still be a challenge to get parishes to adopt them here, because “it’s a major undertaking”.
“However the main message of the night for all of us was the necessity of evangelisation, so much a theme of Ecclesia in Oceania (the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation),” he said.
“With or without evangelisation cells, where you already have a group in place in a parish, whether a prayer group, or Lenten group … you can still give it an evangelical thrust now, and reach out to people.”
In the parish cells, small groups meet once a week to pray, learn more about and support each other in the Catholic faith.
They also commit to spending an hour in personal prayer each week, preferably before the Blessed Sacrament, and attending Sunday Mass in their parish.
Because the system, like the Church, has an outward focus, each participant is encouraged to invite non-Catholics or non-practising Catholics to come to the meetings.
Fr Pi Gi says those in cells have a special task of service towards the last people to join them and the parish.
All the cell members pray together for potential newcomers and eventually as they grow, each cell divides to keep them small.
As the cells multiply, they produce lay leaders to support the parish priest and the life of the Church.
Fr Eugene Ahern’s parish of Mill Park in Melbourne recently celebrated three years of Parish Cells of Evangelisation.
“My own life has been much happier and hope-filled since I have been in cells,” he says.
“Our parish was really struggling, (but) now it has come alive.”
‘Cells’ is a better word to describe what forms in the parishes than ‘groups’, he says, which might have the connotation of a clique.
“Cells are natural, cells grow and multiply. Healthy cells make a healthy parish,” he says.
“Healthy parishes make a happy, hope-filled Church.
“The end result is a happier church full of happy Catholics who are taking the Good News to the world.”
So far no Sydney parish has adopted Parish Cells of Evangelisation, but Fr Ahern says Archbishop George Pell has given his blessing to encouraging Sydney parishes to take them up.
For information on parish cells, call Fr Eugene Ahern on (03) 9404 3865, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Catholic Adult Education Centre on (02) 9643 3660.