Bishop Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay has been personally moving his flock forward in the New Evangelization. Through careful and prolonged prayer and discernment, Bishop Ricken created the Department of New Evangelization a number of years ago specifically to “move evangelization and discipleship forward in the diocese.” This specific department was created as parishes identified ongoing needs in the area of evangelization and discipleship. The Director of New Evangelization, Julianne Stanz, said Bishop Ricken was very intentional about the department’s structure and set it up to assist parishes. The mission of the department of new evangelization is “to inspire and equip parishes to form disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit”.
About two years ago, Bishop Ricken deepened his vision for the New Evangelization through a process called, “Disciples on the Way” which strongly focuses on missionary discipleship. Over the course of six years (2014-2020), the entire diocese will be focusing on the journey of discipleship. It will consist of three phases which encompass formation in “Prayer and Holiness” (2014-2016), “Discipleship” (2016-2018), and “Mission” (2018-2020).
This process faithfully follows the model of Jesus Christ: He spent time in prayer and discernment, invited people to come follow Him, and then sent His followers forth to “Go and make disciples.” “Discovering Christ, Following Christ, and Sharing Christ is a big emphasis for Bishop Ricken,” said Julianne and it also closely follows the elements of “encounter, accompaniment, and mission” from Pope Francis and a document from the Evangelization and Catechesis Committee of the USCCB of which Bishop Ricken is a member.
Julianne said that when Bishop Ricken is asked where the inspiration for Disciples on the Way came from, he states that it is the fruit of prayer. “He went before the Blessed Mother,” said Julianne. “He would pray, ‘There are so many needs in our diocese…Blessed Mother, what should I be focusing on as your servant son?'” Her answer was “Teach my people to pray.” Bishop Ricken faithfully did her will and wrote “Teach My People to Pray” which focused on the first phase of evangelization: Formation in Prayer and Holiness.
Very active throughout the diocese, Bishop Ricken not only leads diocesan staff retreats, but also goes out to the parishes and teaches his flock about prayer and discipleship. “He is very present in our parishes,” said Julianne. “For about three years, we have brought our entire curia together for staff retreats and Bishop himself led many of them…[For example] He did a whole day with us on the Jesus prayer and really drilled down into our relationship with Christ…then he took that out to the parishes….We are very blessed to have a bishop who is very hands on.”
Besides teaching his flock, Bishop Ricken has spent considerable time listening. “This Fall and Spring,” said Julianne, “he held listening sessions with our priests…He asked, ‘In terms of your relationship with the diocese, what aspects of your ministry are not life-giving?’…to really listen to someone say, ‘This [particular aspect] isn’t helpful for us, Bishop’ takes a lot of humility.”
As the diocese now prepares to move into the second phase, that of discipleship, Bishop Ricken has set aside the entire month of July for prayer and discernment. During this time, he’ll be asking the Holy Spirit for guidance as to what aspects of missionary discipleship should be emphasized in his upcoming letter to his flock. “He will be writing some very concrete pieces,” said Julianne, “on what missionary discipleship looks like for us in terms of a diocese, but, most importantly, for parishes and for the people that we serve.”
In moving the diocese from maintenance to mission, Bishop Ricken has focused greatly on being joy filled and missionary Catholics instead just participating in programs. “We do have some programs and some elements that springboard people,” said Julianne, “but it is more important to have a process.” Much of the formation will be handled by Bishop Ricken and assisted by the Curia of the Diocese of Green Bay. “There is value to bringing in outside experts,” said Julianne. “We’ve had some of the best of the best speakers here in the diocese. But in order to sustain and foster the missionary culture, we have to be able to look at the real needs of our people and decide what…specific things we can be doing to help grow their faith…in a comprehensive and intentional way.” This involves looking to the parishes for their best practices and the wisdom they’ve acquired, as well as bringing in outside resources that complement the diocese’s efforts. “Having an ear to the universal Church is just as important as having an ear to the particular church and listening to the needs of your parishes,” Julianne added.
As far as advice on how to develop a culture of missionary discipleship, Julianne reminds people to involve the Holy Spirit in the planning process for all the best laid plans will come to no avail if it is not in His Will. “My advice would be to pray and to really call upon the power of the Holy Spirit,” said Julianne. “Look at the patrimony of the Church, especially the early Church, and how they set up households of faith along with a very deliberate formation process.”
You can follow Bishop Ricken, Julianne Stanz, and the Department of New Evangelization by signing up for their newsletter. The diocese also offers a great many evangelization resources that are open to all including a Catholic Evangelization Studies Course this upcoming August.