Thousands of Catholics come together in unity

by Mike May

Beatriz Arellanes was driving her son, Irving, to school one cold, winter morning when he saw something distressing that tugged at his heart—a man sleeping on a bus stop bench.

But Irving knew what to do. Stopping at a convenience store, they bought a hot chocolate and brought it to him. And, seeing that the man was cold, he even gave the him his coat.

The man’s response: “God does exist!”

That was one of many inspiring stories shared with thousands of Catholics from all reaches of the Archdiocese of Omaha who came together June 8 to celebrate their common faith.

ArchOmaha Unite, in planning for more than two years, drew the faithful to CHI Health Center in Omaha on the eve of Pentecost to call down a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church of Northeast Nebraska and inspire attendees to live out the archdiocese’s pastoral vision—one church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy.

The Great Gathering

The daylong event began with the Great Gathering, which featured a video highlighting the archdiocese’s history, including Nebraska’s original native population, the immigration of people from other countries, and the arrival of members of religious orders to serve their needs.

Then, representatives of these groups—native Americans, the religious orders, and descendants of German, Irish, Eastern European, Italian, African, Asian, and Central and South American immigrants—some carrying flags and banners and dressed in colorful ethnic garb, entered the arena in solemn procession.

Representatives of rural and urban parishes, members of the Anglo-Catholic tradition from St. Barnabas Parish in Omaha, and people who joined the church at Easter also followed in procession.

Janice Jochum, a member of St. Isidore Parish in Columbus, noted the sense of unity the procession created.

“It doesn’t matter who we are … where we are from, whether we’re rural or the metro, we’re all one family,” she said. “We have one common theme, and that is Jesus.”

As emcees for the day, Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy for the archdiocese, and Calvin Mueller, coordinator of rural evangelization and catechesis, brought abundant energy to the stage, firing up the crowd and welcoming attendees from each region of the archdiocese, as cheers from each group filled the air.

“This is incredible,” Mueller said. “People from 138 different parishes, different ethnicities, different backgrounds, here on the vigil of Pentecost celebrating together.”

Father Hastings set the stage for the day within the context of the archdiocese’s pastoral vision promoting unity.

“Part of living out that one church is coming together today in this expression of unity, of all of us from all these counties, all gathered together … on this feast of the birth of the
church on Pentecost, to call on the Holy Spirit to draw us together today,” he said.

The Main Event

The morning session, called the Main Event, featured panel discussions with ordinary Catholics, led by Mueller and Father Hastings.

The presentations illustrated how each and every Catholic can encounter Jesus, become his disciples and share his love and mercy—one-on-one—with the people they encounter in their daily lives.

Arellanes, who is coordinator of Latino school enrollment for the Catholic Schools office, was one of 11 Catholics giving testimonials during the program.

Father Hastings concluded the panel presentations, inviting attendees to take note of the arena’s video screens where numerous simple ways to live mercy in their daily lives were displayed. He said, “Which one of these things can I do? Ask yourself, what can I do before I go to bed tonight?”

“Our Heavenly Father gives each of us unique gifts, unique talents, and he prompts us in different ways,” he said. “I would ask that all of us make a firm commitment to live mercy in a different way after this morning.”

Work of the Holy Spirit

As he concluded the morning’s program, Archbishop George J. Lucas recalled the consultations that led to the archdiocese’s pastoral vision and ArchOmaha Unite—the listening sessions held around the archdiocese in 2016.

“Among other things, I heard a deep desire to belong, to understand that we’re part of this church which Jesus himself has established.” he said. “I believe it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us together in one church.”

“One of the things I’m looking for in this experience today, and one of the things I’m praying for, is that the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit will reveal his personal presence to each of us, that the Holy Spirit will help us recognize how close Jesus is to each of us in our own circumstances,” the archbishop said.

He then led the gathered faithful in consecrating themselves to Mary, the mother of God, who he described as Jesus’ “first and best disciple, the one closest to him and also willing to share him with others and to accompany us as we fulfill the mission that Jesus has given us.”

After the morning session, Jackie Schuler, part of a group of 300 attending from St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gretna, said she felt inspired and empowered.

“By growing in faith and just feeling I am empowered to do something … I can go out, and just by changing one little thing, that I would be able to do his work,” she said.

Options for all

Young people were invited to age-appropriate and high-energy Wee, Junior and Teen Unite breakout sessions, featuring inspirational talks, music and activities.

Elizabeth Olson, entering seventh grade this fall at Mary Our Queen School in Omaha, attended the teen session and learned about opening herself to God.

“You can take down your walls and give yourself to God,” she said. “You don’t need to be separated, you don’t need to be different. You can be yourself and God will take care of you.”

And Spanish-speaking attendees enjoyed presentations and songs in their native tongue.

Adriana Castro, from St. Joseph Parish in Omaha, appreciated the effort to make Latinos feel welcome.

“I learned a lot, and it’s beautiful to come together as one, to be one in the church,” she said. “I was really happy that we had Spanish material and translations. I’m very well pleased.”

Attendees also had ample opportunities to walk the Parish Path, a series of displays highlighting the parishes of the archdiocese. Rooms also were set aside for confessions and eucharistic adoration, both of which attracted large numbers of people.

In the afternoon, the general session featured comedian Jim Gaffigan, a Catholic husband and father of five who kept the mood light with stories of everyday family life and growing up in Indiana.

Mary Townley, a member of Holy Ghost Parish in Omaha who attended with her daughter, said she enjoyed Gaffigan’s comedy and has followed his career, “…and the fact that he’s Catholic, that just seals the deal. He talked about a lot of things that we can relate to.”

The afternoon concluded with Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Lucas, with Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island concelebrating.

Also present in the Mass’s opening procession were more than 70 deacons and 120 priests of the archdiocese and religious orders.

The day’s finale was a dramatic, multi-media presentation, “Cross and Light,” a musical telling of the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Todd Christensen, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, appreciated the sense of unity the day’s events provided.

“It sets us all on the same page,” he said. “It’s something that a lot of Catholics can have a shared experience of now. These little acts of unity can carry us and create a better sense of community moving forward.”