Eastern Churches Plan Three “Encounters”

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Eastern Catholics in the United States are planning for a series of three “encounters” to focus on education and evangelization.

The three separate encounters, to be held under the banner “Together in Christ,” are tentatively slated for Cleveland, Los Angeles and the East Coast in September, October and November 2012.

The encounters are the outgrowth of two earlier pan-Eastern encounters, each of which had restricted participation, according to Father John Lucas, a Ukrainian-rite priest in Chicago.

“The first one was organized by Rome and had only bishops,” said Father Lucas, who is editor of the New Star News, the eparchial newspaper for the Byzantine Ukrainian Eparchy of St Nicholas in Chicago. Father Lucas, who is also on an encounter planning subcommittee of Eastern Catholic Eparchial Directors of Religious Education, added: “The bishops could bring one priest with them.”

That encounter was held in Boston in 1999 and was organized by the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches.

The second encounter, held in 2006 in Chicago, was planned by the (U.S. Eastern) bishops, Father Lucas said, but it was an invitation-only affair. “The bishops appointed people to go from their (jurisdiction’s) education department or their evangelization department.”

The 2012 series of encounters is “for anybody who wants to learn something,” Father Lucas said, “and learning something specifically about what the Eastern Church is.”

Planners are expecting a turnout of 100-150 for each encounter. Organizers are hoping to keep the registration fees modest, and would like to offer a group discount for five or more participants.

A two-day meeting was just held in St. Louis as part of the ongoing planning for the encounters; previous meetings have been held in Orlando, Fla., Sybertsville, Pa., Detroit and Houston.

“The whole idea of education and evangelization is something we’re all involved with,” Father Lucas said, “to make sure people know about their church — and other people know about it as well. We’re kind of hoping to open up people’s eyes and minds.”

Although the details of the encounter series were subject to approval by U.S. Eastern bishops at a meeting later in April, plans call for a Thursday session for clergy who cannot stay for the weekend program because of parish responsibilities, according to Father Lucas.

Friday will be the day when other participants gather. Saturday’s schedule will focus on speakers and presentations. Liturgies will be scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday of each encounter. “The Saturday service will not be the same ritual (as Sunday’s). It might be Maronite, it might be Armenian. We’re going to try to make sure that everybody feels welcome,” the priest said.

Father Lucas said relations between members of different Eastern churches are generally good. “In some areas of the country they can (get together). In others they can’t because there’s no one around them,” he noted, referring to the geographic distances separating members of the Eastern churches. “It takes a lot of work to get it (an encounter) done, and everybody’s busy.”

The Eastern bishops worked over several years in the past decade to develop “God With Us,” a catechetical series for kindergarten through eighth-grade students now in use in most U.S. Eastern parishes.

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