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Pastoral Formation

A Key Element of Ministerial Development: Pastoral Formation

In the wide sense, pastoral formation coincides with spiritual formation: it is formation for an ever greater identification with the diakonia of Christ. . . In the strict sense, pastoral formation develops by means of specific theological discipline and a practical internship. [Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Diaconorum Permanentium].

Practical internship should be provided for each candidate to permit him to meet in the field what he has learned in his study.  It must be gradual, tailored to the individual and under continual supervision.  For the choice of activities, account should be taken of the instituted ministries received, and their exercise should be evaluated. [Ratio].

The pastoral formation program provides a “hands-on” opportunity for the aspirants and candidates to become familiar with the pastoral needs of their parish community, and to assist the pastor in his endeavor to service his people through the ministries of charity, word, and sacrament.  To prepare him for effective leadership, an aspirant or candidate is assigned to a specific ministry by the Director of the Formation Program: shelter ministry, catechetical, hospital, or hospice ministries.  In addition, an aspirant and candidate will assist his pastor in the local parish community and will be under the guidance of the pastor or his delegate within the parish.  This placement becomes a catalyst for study and prayerful reflection.

As Minister of Word, the candidate prepares himself by teaching the Word in religious education courses and adult education programs in the parish; preparing converts for Baptism; and serving as Reader at liturgical assemblies. The candidate participates in the parish’s sacramental preparation programs, and assists the priest or deacon at sacramental celebrations, i.e. Baptisms and Marriages.

As Minister of Charity the aspirant and candidate reach out to those in need.  The following areas of ministry are, by no means, to be considered as limits of this ministry.  These are but some of the many areas in which an aspirant/candidate may minister:

  • work in a facility to aid the poor and needy e.g. Soup Kitchen, shelter, St. Vincent de Paul Society, etc.;
  • visit the handicapped, shut-ins, elderly, sick in the parish;
  • visit the hospitalized;
  • work with young adult groups, divorced/remarried Catholics, senior   citizens groups;
  • transportation of the elderly or handicapped to church functions;
  • ecumenical outreach;
  • prison ministry;
  • college campus ministry

Maria Harris stated:

“Works that serve justice…are best-known being the works of mercy…such as, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, and burying the dead.  These are the works that serve justice as described by Jesus in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel with the reminder that ‘As long as you did these things to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did them to me’”.

When we participate in worship or liturgy, this is an intensely corporate act, a gathering of the people to tell the story, break the bread, share the cup, and then go forth in spirit and in truth.  The going forth, especially to do [the works of mercy]…Our own times have seen a reclaiming of these works of mercy as central to spirituality and part of the core.  In the ordinary, daily life, moreover, people need to remember that much of their lives is devoted to doing exactly these works…Such works, instead of being thought of as apart from spirituality, are actually a part of it.

Parish Social Ministry

Harris continues to discuss education for justice.  She stated that there are four forms: social care, social ritual, social empowerment, and social legislation that local religious communities have at their disposal.  Each of these forms is essentially social, which is to say that justice is always relational, and neither individualistic nor isolated.

Social care, in particular, is a virtue, a power, and a strength…and parishes are almost always involved in pastoral care, responding to every social need imaginable, from domestic violence to families coping with Alzheimer’s to bereavement and grief over the death of family members and friends.

All acts of care have an impact on the wider society.  Care is rooted in attitudes of relation, receptivity, and response, and these attitudes contribute positively to the social order and the social fabric…At its best, care moves in the direction of helping others help themselves, although it is basically inseparable from the gospel and the ethic of love for God and neighbor.

The parish social ministry aspect of the formation program provides an aspirant or candidate with an opportunity to engage in a specific Ministry of Charity. He will be supervised in this ministry either by his pastor or his pastor’s delegate. The aspirant/candidate can be a source of new and innovative pastoral outreach since he comes to ministry with many years of life experiences.

The aspirants and candidates are assigned specific ministries each year as well as ministries undertaken under the guidance of the pastor.  For this reason, communal and parish activities undertaken prior to a man’s acceptance as an aspirant are to be curtailed.

The aspirants in the First Year assist the Franciscan Friars of Renewal at two shelters: The Padre Pio Shelter in the South Bronx and the San Juan Diego Shelter in Yonkers.  The Second Year students teach religious education classes, assist with the RCIA program, or conduct Adult Faith Formation in their home parish or a nearby parish on a weekly basis.  The Third Year candidates receive the Ministry of Reader and proclaim the scriptures at their home parish on a weekly basis.  They also assist at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, NY, under the supervision of staff members assigned to the Pastoral Care Unit.  Finally, the Fourth Year candidates receive the Ministry of Acolyte and assist with the distribution of holy communion at their parish on a weekly basis.  They also visit patients at Calvary Hospital, Bronx, NY and periodically meet with staff personnel for updating and instruction.  They apply themselves to their assigned ministries for at least 2 hours per week. The aforementioned activities are by no means the only possible apostolic endeavors an aspirant or candidate undertakes. He may also assist his pastor at ad hoc assignment in the parish community.

Parish Social Ministry focuses on the Ministry of Charity.  The aspirants and candidates have an opportunity to interact with the parochial staff, to develop ministerial skills, and to start the process of defining the type of ministry or apostolic endeavor he can undertake as a deacon in the parish.  It is also an opportunity for the aspirant and candidate to help parishioners to understand the role and work of a deacon as a Minister of Charity.