Story by Kristi Anderson
DURING A WEEKEND COURSE at the Emmaus Institute, some of the students participated in a practicum where they learned how to pray with the homebound and bring them the Eucharist.
The following week, someone from one of the student’s communities was in a car accident and was unable to attend Sunday Mass. The injured person only spoke Spanish and the parish priest did not.
The student contacted the parish priest and asked if he could be commissioned to bring the Eucharist to the ailing person.
“What I learned, what I saw, was that being a disciple means to go out and do it, don’t wait,” said Mayuli Bales, one of the co-founders of the Emmaus Institute. A student herself, she has seen firsthand the impact the classes are already having on the other students.
“They were ready, they were prepared and they recognized the need. To me that’s what is important, because that has an immediate effect. It shows others that we are going to continue bringing the Good News to our community,” she said.
As the landscape of the Diocese of St. Cloud has been changing to include a larger population of Hispanic/Latino members, Church leaders determined there was a need to help form and feed their spiritual needs. About three years ago, a formation program was implemented in collaboration with the Pastoral Institute at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. Almost 60 people completed that two-year cohort.
During that time, it became clear that the program needed to be expanded to fulfill the growing interest in pastoral leadership formation, not only for Latinos, but also for English-speaking lay people seeking to develop their own leadership skills.
In 2018, Kristi Bivens was hired as the associate director of lay leadership formation for the diocese. The Emmaus Institute was formed in cooperation with Deacon Ernie Kociemba, diocesan director of the permanent diaconate; Bales, diocesan director of multicultural ministries; and Benedictine Father Efrain Rosado, in partnership with St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary.
Bivens acts as the administrator of the institute, which meets one weekend a month at St. John’s. She spends her time learning about each of the 58 students as well as the instructors.
“Our instructors do such a phenomenal job of connecting the theological with the practical, the theological with the Church, the theological with the world,” Bivens said. “And the people are on fire. There is such a hunger and desire to learn about faith, to learn about ministry, to learn about each other and be in relationship with one another.”
Deacon Kociemba’s involvement was key to the program as it involves a track for Hispanic/Latino deacon candidates.
“It has proven to be a gift and a grace,” Deacon Kociemba said. “We’ve gotten five, soon to be six, men that are applying to go on into formation. That is our hope: that this option that was picked up after two years with the Pastoral Institute now can carry this program, so that we can have some ordinations of [deacons] from the Latino culture.”
Bales sees her role as being a “human bridge” between the cultures and faith communities.
“It’s been a long path dreaming and thinking about the possibility of the Emmaus Institute,” Bales said. “This need for catechetical formation has been one of the cries of the community for many years. We talk about being a Universal Church, and that’s where the momentum is. Emmaus Institute is for me, this crossroads. Having the doors open here, to bring us to an institution that has been forming the Anglos for centuries, and now to be open to have these students, really [shows] clearly the work the Diocese of St. Cloud is doing. These students that are in the classrooms today, I see they will be tomorrow’s leaders in our churches.”
Deacon Kociemba said that, while the formation process is highly academic, there’s a spiritual dimension that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“This formation program develops the whole person,” he said. “When they come out to minister, they’re very well developed — humanly, pastorally, theologically, academically and spiritually. The stronger and the better educated they are, the better developed formation that they have, it has a ripple effect, not only through the community, but through the schools and through society in general. We can’t do it all, but we can start where we are.”
Emmaus Institute would not be possible without the support of the bishop and the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.
“As we form lay ministers and deacon candidates for ministry, what it’s going to mean to every person in the pews, is that at Mass every Sunday, there will be someone who is going to be present to them, somebody in their parish who may be the person who listens to them and has the skills to listen well, who will build relationships and empower and invite that person in the pew to answer their baptismal call to serve the parish in a way that uses their gifts,” Bivens said.
“I firmly believe that the formation that our people are receiving in the Emmaus Institute is going to create amazing lay ministers and deacons in our diocese who really will reach out to the margins to bring people in, build relationships and empower people to live out their discipleship.”