Story by Leigh Calfee
NEBRASKA CITY (SNR) - Parishioners at St. Benedict in Nebraska City recently began meeting weekly for a six-week summer learning series.
The “Encounter” group gathers each Wednesday evening to share a meal and watch a short video from Alpha International. The video is followed by a series of questions designed to engage participants in dialogue about their faith experiences.
More than a weekly fellowship opportunity, the evenings are meant to help each person develop a deeper, more personal relationship with Jesus.
Father Mark Cyza, pastor of St. Benedict, said gathering for a meal is a crucial part of the program.
“Our encounter with Jesus does not happen in a vacuum. It happens within the context of the Body of Christ,” he said. “A meal can provide that context. There is a reason Jesus had a meal when he instituted the Eucharist. There is a reason many of his parables are centered around banquets and feasts.”
The Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother participate in the weekly gatherings, and Sister Kathleen, OSF, said she values the chance to get to know other participants.
“It’s good for us as religious to spend time with the laity, sharing faith and enjoying each other’s company,” she said. “When I go home, I reflect on what I’ve learned and then apply it to my life.”
Father Cyza said he encourages people to invite others to the Encounter meetings, and each week finds both St. Benedict parishioners and community members gathered together for fellowship, food and learning.
St. Benedict member Patrick Gress said the emphasis is always on developing a more personal relationship with the Lord.
“The goal is to participate in an activity that makes Jesus personal in our lives,” he stated.
Gathering around a table and sharing faith experiences serves to strengthen bonds within the parish community; in addition, participants find themselves reflecting on their own relationship with Jesus.
“When we are open to the Spirit and open to one another, we open the door of our hearts to Jesus,” Father Cyza said. “This is what our Encounter ministry is about.”
Sister Kathleen, OSF, agreed, stating, “It’s great to encounter Christ on a deeper spiritual level, and it’s a nice way to spend a Wednesday evening.”