By LINDA M. LINONIS
Communing with God and nature on the meditation trail, taking a break at a coffee house, asking questions about Catholic beliefs and eating s’mores while cozying up to a bonfire will all be a part of a Renewal of Spirit and Joy Week at Our Lady of the Lakes Parish.
The parish, the merger of St. Catherine Church and St. James Church in North Jackson, has a membership of about 500 families.
The observance, which begins today with a PEP (Parish Evangelization Program) Rally is part of a pilot program involving nine parishes and the chancery office in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.
Earlier this week, the Rev. David Merzweiler, pastor; Betty Paul, chairwoman of the evangelization committee; and Carol Opatken and David Bailey, committee members, talked about the program.
“It focuses on new and creative ways to bring people back to the church and involve them in church,” Father David said.
The pastor continued that the goal was to engage nonactive members, specially those who attend Mass but are not involved in ministries of the church.
“We want them to see they are part of something,” he said.
The aim of the Spirit and Joy Week already has been realized to a certain extent, Father David said. “People have come together and completed projects.”
The committee and pastor were pleased about the involvement of parishioners.
The committee of 45 members divided into groups, which worked on events of the week. All are free and open to all. There is today’s PEP Rally, coffee houses throughout the week at both church buildings, a Curious About Catholics question and answer session and St. Francis of Assisi pet blessing.
Finishing elements of the meditation trail in preparation for its dedication on Tuesday was a major undertaking. “It was an opportunity to get together just as Pope Francis said and talk about the importance of what we share,” Father David said.
Paul said the committee planned various activities to engage members and those interested in learning about the Catholic faith. She said today’s rally will open the week of the week of activities and be a time of fellowship. On Sunday, cards with questions will be collected in anticipation of the Curious About Catholics forum on Wednesday; the questions will prompt discussion. She said an idea box will remain a fixture to field comments and ideas.
Bailey said the forum follows the example of Acts of the Apostles. That text, he said, questioned if what was being done was the right thing.
“We as a parish family should be open and free to ask questions and discuss answers,” he said.
Father David will be a “resource” at the forum. “A dialogue is important,” he said.
Paul also noted the coffee gatherings will provide another avenue for conversation about faith and practices.
Highlighting the week will be the dedication and tours of the new meditation trail on Tuesday. The entrance features a pergola accented by two crosses and bench seating at either side. “This was a big hands-on project,” said Opatken. “It took a lot of time and donations,” Bailey said of the half-mile trail that also features the Stations of the Cross marked with wooden crosses and a few benches. Mulching the path will finish the trail.
“People can pray what they want on the meditation trail," Opatken said. “The natural environment is a good setting,” she said.
After the dedication, there will be a candlelight walk on the trail, where each Station of the Cross will be blessed.
The trail is another element on the 39-acre property that includes the church, rectory, pavilion and garden. “The trail will be a place to quiet yourself down and be in nature,” Bailey said.
Opatken added, “The beauty of the land ... the forest and water ... we can appreciate nature.”
Paul said the week will conclude with an appreciation brunch after the 10 a.m. Mass Oct. 6 at St. James.