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Scenes from a Parish

Scenes from a Parish

Foreword by Fr. Allan F. Deck, S.J.

One of my favorite definitions of spirituality is "a loving look at the real." James Rutenbeck's Scenes from a Parish is a standing invitation to look lovingly at one of the most characteristic realities of today's parish—growing diversity driven by dramatic demographic shifts. How will Catholic communities respond to this shift in the cultural and social class make-up of the parish?

Fr. Henri Nouwen, the much-beloved spiritual writer, tells us that hospitality is at the heart of a really Christian spirituality. Hospitality opens us up to God and neighbor. It is the necessary first step in developing a love of others. It is no secret that 9/11, all the talk about terrorism and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the media highlights the extent to which fear dominates and paralyses people's minds and hearts today. Sadly, some sincere Catholic parishioners are letting the negativity create in them a "hunkering down" attitude. Yet faithful discipleship of Jesus Christ tells us that our neighbor is precisely the outsider, the forgotten and vulnerable wayfarer, homeless person or immigrant "left for dead on the side of the road." So, as in Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan, the emotion that ought to inspire us is compassion, not fear.

The Catholic bishops are leading the way for us on the question of cultural diversity, inviting us to see it primarily as a blessing, not a problem. Yes, it means that parishes and dioceses must move beyond the prevailing culture's comfort zones in order to show real hospitality to new people. It means getting our goals straight and not putting the drive to assimilate newcomers to U.S. culture before the Church's primary mission to evangelize. That mission pertains to everyone—longstanding, assimilated parishioners as well as newcomers.

The Catholic Church's regard for cultural diversity is not based on the need for "everyone to just get along" and other values that the secular world proposes. Rather, the basis is found in Catholic identity itself which proposes that the Church strives to achieve union or communion not through uniformity but in and through love that embraces diversity rather than reacts to it as a threat. This is why the Church calls itself "catholic" or "universal."

Scenes from a Parish is an honest and open exploration of the drama, hardship and hope that changing demographics are bringing to parishes all over the country today. The leadership roles of pastor and committed laity shine forth in this film as do the reality of the challenges and choices that arise in finding the way forward. The characters, scenes, images and storyline of this film offer such a rich and provocative source of reflection and prayer.

To help us harness the provocative power of the film in a constructive way, RENEW International has compiled this Film Faith-Sharing Guide. By the very fact of meeting together to faith share, intertwining what we see on screen with key passages from Scripture, we are opening ourselves and our communities to the change to which the Spirit is calling us. Where is God in all of this? Where is the Spirit leading our parishes and dioceses in an age of growing and diverse human encounters? Faith sharing on these very real questions is already the beginning of being transformed by the presence of the other, and the start of becoming something new.

May this film and the faith sharing that flows from it be a fruitful source of profound and enduring prayer on a reality of life itself –ours and that of our brothers and sisters. The underlying story of Scenes from a Parish deeply concerns who we truly are as a community and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us listen to the Spirit speaking in our heart of hearts.                                                                                        

Reverend Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church

Faith Sharing Edition DVD with Companion Film Faith Sharing Guide from RENEW International:
This Faith Sharing Edition DVD from RENEW International offers parishes and small communities the opportunity to view, reflect upon, and share faith with this special edition film. Additional faith-sharing menu selections are provided on the important themes of welcoming the stranger, compassion, and feeding the hungry. Each Faith Sharing Edition DVD includes a companion Film Faith-Sharing Guide. Scenes from a Parish provokes and stimulates all sorts of reactions. The companion Film Faith-Sharing Guide in English and Spanish presents various ways to use these reactions constructively in an atmosphere of sharing, and above all through the eyes of faith.

Scenes From A Parish Documentary produced by James Rutenbeck:

"Love thy neighbor just got a whole lot harder". Gather your college, university, family or parish to experience Scenes from a Parish, the documentary film by award-winning filmmaker James Rutenbeck. Scenes offers a rare and compelling glimpse into one parish's experience as it struggles to reconcile ideals of faith with the realities of today's changing and diverse culture. It brings to life the challenges and blessings of social justice in way that the Boston Globe calls "surpassingly lucid."

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