Diocese to launch Bishop Dolan’s with intro session Dec. 10

By Joyce Coronel, The Catholic Sun

Bombarded by text messages, social media, email and podcasts, there’s an enormous amount of information coming at Catholics these days. Personal interaction centered around the Gospel? Not so much.

An innovative program developed by Bishop John P. Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix aims to change all that.

Almost 20 years ago, while pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in the Diocese of San Diego, Bishop Dolan discovered a Lenten program offered by a Catholic media company.

Unfortunately, the program was pricey and beyond the means of the parish. In response, he began Christ in Our Neighborhood, a weekly gathering of small groups of people in neighborhood homes. Free, downloadable PDFs provide a brief commentary on the Sunday readings plus questions for the group to discuss. The goal was to build community through listening to and discussing God’s Word.

“I think social media, as good as it can be, we end up losing sight of the personal,” Bishop Dolan said. “I think we need to get back to the medium of sitting around on couches and communicating there.”

“That’s the message if ever we’re going to grow our Church, if ever we’re going to grow our families, if we’re ever going to grow our parishes and our neighborhoods again.”

Bishop Dolan said the weekly Bible study was hit among parishioners. About 40 small groups, each consisting of about 10 people, began meeting. Later, when he moved to St. Michael Parish in San Diego, he brought CION with him.

Alice Beas, director of Evangelization at St. Michael’s, remembers how it all began.

“The first time, we had at least 30 groups. And they met all over the neighborhood in different homes,” Beas said. “It was wildly successful.”

That personal approach of meeting in people’s homes and listening to each other and sharing the Sunday readings, is the kind of evangelization Bishop Dolan wants to promote.

He’s concerned that with people being so focused on devices as a source of spiritual nourishment, personal interaction is lost.

“People move from one thing to the next but there’s no personal buy-in,” Bishop Dolan said. “There’s a lack of communication, that individual communication. That to me is where small church community happens.”

The best form of evangelization, Bishop Dolan said, “takes place around the table, around meals, around the Word of God, but communicating with each other and talking to each other.”

Growing up in a large family — there were nine Dolan kids – he learned the value of discussion around the table.

“We were very relational,” Bishop Dolan said. “There’s nothing better than just sitting down and conversing with people and then teasing out of people the beauty of God that’s already resting in their hearts. To me, that’s evangelization.”

Community builder

Sr. Mary Kiely, OFM, has known Bishop Dolan since he was a young child. She’s been an integral part of CION over the last 20 years and knows the value it brings to a parish.

“What I find is, people look forward to it,” Sr. Kiely said. “They tell me, ‘We don’t go into Mass cold on a Sunday morning without preparation, so that when we do go to Mass, we are far more attentive to the readings than if we had never read them, never prayed them together, never really looked at them with any depth previous to Mass.”

Deacon John Gabbard of St. Rose of Lima Parish said CION helps build friendships in a parish.

“It’s a really good community builder,” Deacon Gabbard said. “The people that have been in my groups — I’ve been involved in seven or eight sessions — we continued to socialize after.”

During the pandemic, CION groups switched to Zoom sessions. Some groups are still meeting that way because various members have moved out of state, Sr. Kiely said.

Representatives of parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix will learn more about CION at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, when an introduction and discussion will be held at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. To sign up for the session, call (602) 354-2025 or email jcoronel@dphx.org.

More information: dphx.org/christ-in-our-neighborhood.