College students ‘a huge blessing’ for St. Peter’s in Greeley

Moira Cullings

The Sunday evening Mass at St. Peter Catholic Church in Greeley looks a little different than most parishes in the archdiocese — it’s filled with college students.

“They are very active,” said Father Jim Crisman, pastor of St. Peter’s. “It certainly adds a level of enthusiasm and life to the parish.”

Located just a mile down the road from the University of Northern Colorado, St. Peter’s welcomes and reaches out to students through its largest ministry — Bear Catholic.

Bear Catholic serves students at UNC in a variety of ways with two part-time campus ministers and FOCUS missionaries who act as the “evangelistic arm” of the ministry, explained Michael Lynch, Campus Development Director at St. Peter’s.

Lynch, who attended UNC and later served as a FOCUS missionary there, has seen first-hand the fruits of the campus ministry.

The priests who served during his time in Bear Catholic offered adoration, confession and daily Mass on a regular basis, as well as opportunities for retreats.

“The opportunities to grow and take it to the next step wherever you are in your faith journey [are there],” he said. “There was always something available if you were hungry enough for it.”

St. Peter’s works hard to make the college students feel included, particularly through a new program called “Adopt a Bear,” which allows parishioners to open their homes and share a meal with one or two college students.

“It was created to bridge the distance in ages because so often in parishes, the age group that’s not well-represented is college-aged students because they’re off at college,” said Father Crisman.

“We wanted to integrate them into the life of the parish in a positive way so that they could have a positive influence on the families and the families could have a positive influence on them,” he added.

The program is also a way to help kids who might feel homesick.

“We have parishioners who are acting as a way to give the students a home away from home,” said Lynch, “which is what St. Peter’s strives to do for their college students.”

The Bear Catholic ministry at St. Peter Catholic Parish in Greeley has seen the great fruits of reaching out to college students at UNC. (File photo)

Bear Catholic itself has made an incredible impact on students who participate in it during their college years. Several have even joined the Church or received certain sacraments for the first time during their time at UNC.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Father Crisman. “They’ve got great intellectual curiosity. They raise excellent questions. They give youthful enthusiasm that’s infectious.”

Parishioners like Aileen Kato, who has been a member of St. Peter’s for 34 years, enjoy the gifts the young adults bring to the Church community.

“I love that vibrancy that they bring to the parish,” said Kato. “The newness of life and the questions — it’s wonderful for me.”

Kato is grateful for the presence of college students and her parish’s work to minister to them.

“I support whole-heartedly the mission of our church and the outreach that we have with campus ministry because it’s so important,” she said. “It’s the future of our church and of our faith. If we don’t nurture it and foster it and be a part of it, it’s going to fade away.”

Father Crisman continues to welcome the opportunity to change the course of a young person’s faith life through Bear Catholic.

“We’re making disciples that will be able to live the fruits of the gospel,” he said, “and then share those fruits with everyone in their field of expertise.”

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA