It is the first Friday in May, believe it or not, and so our regular correspondent, Mr. Brian Ching, C.S.C., has checked in from St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear, AZ, with this month's installment of his blog, Learning the Ropes. It is party time, as we will see …
One of the most important events in the life of St. John Vianney is the annual parish fiesta. Our parish fiesta is no simple barbeque with some music; it rivals most small amusement parks, complete with carnival rides and games, live music, and lots of fried food. As you can imagine, the fiesta requires an unimaginable amount of preparation and planning, as well as brute physical labor to set up, clean, and take down – all of it graciously provided by parish volunteers. As this year's fiesta approached a simple question was in my mind was, is it worth it? It seemed like a lot of work, time, and energy for a three-day party, yet by the end of it, despite being absolutely exhausted, the answer was definitively "yes".
Truth be told, I had never been to a parish fiesta or carnival before; it is just something that was not all that common where I grew up or around South Bend. I wasn't sure what exactly to expect. Yet as the fiesta progressed its true intent and rationale became clear: It is an extremely important element in the life of our parish, because it in a small way lives out, what we are called to do in the Eucharist, to form a community united in Christ. The fiesta is a time for our parish to come together as a community and just enjoy each others' company. For a parish whose community is as diverse as ours, covering two different cultures and often operating in two different languages, it is extremely important to find things that bring our parishioners together.
What a beautiful sight it was to see parishioners of all different backgrounds, languages, and ages come together to simply have a good time and enjoy some good food and music together. To see generations young and old out on the dance floor together dancing to music both Anglo and Mexican. It can often feel as if we have two parishes in one, one Spanish-speaking and one English-speaking, after all we have separate masses, separate youth groups, and separate catechetical classes. Yet the fiesta is a great reminder that we are at our greatest when we come together as a single parish community. The fiesta, rides and all, is really an important expression of the strength of our parish community.
The fiesta provides a great analogy for the work of parish ministry. It takes an immense amount of time and effort to put it together and to make it run smoothly. Along the way there are a few obstacles to overcome and stressful moments to be navigated; there are always a few moments when the obstacles seem so great that you wonder if it is worth doing at all. However at the end of the day, when everything comes together the result is so amazing that it makes the struggle of planning worth it. An increasingly greater challenge in parish ministry is the shifting of demographics within a certain parish, especially as different ethnic groups move into new neighborhoods. This often presents unique difficulties in building a sense of community within the parish, but when we are willing to spend the time and energy to work through the challenges the result is truly divine. God calls us to be one community, one body in Christ, reminding us that the humanity we share is far greater than those things that divide us. How wonderful it is when we can have those moments, like our parish fiesta, when that calling of the Lord becomes a reality.