by John Freml, Springfield, IL
On July 11-13, Call To Action 20/30 hosted a summer retreat/workshop on the topic of small faith-sharing groups — what they are, how to start one, and how to facilitate meaningful conversation about spirituality with progressive Catholics. One retreatant, John, offers us this reportback.
Some of us came to the Walker House in Boston all the way from the West Coast. Others came from just up the road.
One of us was a college student from Nebraska, who came to Boston to learn how he could build a more inclusive and just faith community for other students on his campus. Several of us are Catholic school teachers, who came to learn how they could reconcile their consciences with the Catholic theology they are asked to teach. One of us is an organic farmer who is discerning her call to the Roman Catholic priesthood. One of us is a lawyer who is actively involved in parish life, but wants to make sure that all voices are heard in the church.
I came as a member of a new inclusive Catholic community that has just started in central Illinois, who wanted to learn more about how I can reach out to other young adults in their 20s and 30s in my area.
All of us – no matter where we came from, or where we were on our individual faith journeys – came to share our stories and learn more about how we can live out the Church’s gospel call to show Christ’s love for all people and to serve one another.
The Call to Action 20/30 retreat was an opportunity to distance ourselves for a few days from our everyday lives. We were able to leave the stress and hustle behind at home, and come together as young progressive Catholics who care passionately about women’s equality in the Church, the everyday struggles of LGBT Catholics, and workers at Catholic institutions who are routinely asked to violate their consciences by signing morality clauses that do spiritual violence.
It was refreshing – and inspiring.
In central Illinois, I often feel very alone. Until recently, I thought I was the only young progressive Catholic in a hundred mile radius! I listened to my bishop tell me that voting for a Democratic candidate would put the eternal salvation of my soul in jeopardy. I watched as Catholic Charities shuffled all of the children under their care back to the state, because they did not want to be forced to adopt to same sex couples. I watched our Cathedral undergo a multi-million dollar renovation, while a Catholic school just down the street – one that enrolls low income children and children of color – threatened to close its doors due to lack of funding. What stung the most is when my bishop held an exorcism to atone for the “sin” of marriage equality, which took place at the same time our Governor signed the bill.
I was about to lose all hope. But then I met the proud Catholic mother of a gay son who told me about Call to Action. I met another woman who was about to be ordained a Catholic priest, who attended a Call to Action conference in the past. I learned about the 20/30 CTA group, and asked if I could attend their summer retreat. Even though I registered late, and they weren’t sure if there would be space, in the end I was welcomed with open arms.
During the retreat, we laughed together (a lot), we shared our Catholic horror stories, and we brainstormed about how to build up small faith sharing communities. We didn’t always agree on everything, but we respected our differences and learned how to build a progressive Catholic movement that is open to diversity and debate. Best of all, I made over a dozen new friends, who I hope to work closely with in the coming months and years.
After years of feeling alone in my own faith journey, I finally feel like I am a member of a warm and welcoming community again. I feel wanted and needed. I’m ready to be the change that Jesus calls me to be.
And I owe it all to my new friends at Call to Action.