LAKELAND | With more than 50% of diocesan priests being 65 or older, and more than half of that group being 70 and older, Father Tim LaBo and Ecumenical Franciscan Louis Canter, have revamped the Lay Ecclesial Ministry program. The new program is accredited through St. Leo University; completed in one year; and falls under the Diocese of Orlando’s Laity, Family, and Life Office’s supervision.
Father LaBo and Canter began preparing in 2019, when they saw an increasing need for laity to fill in the gaps, particularly for priests serving multiple parishes. Father LaBo serves as pastor of St. Joseph, Resurrection, and St. Anthony Parishes in Lakeland and St. Joseph Parish in Winter Haven. Canter is regional pastoral assistant for the same locations. Their situation is becoming the norm as more priests come of retirement age and fewer priests are being ordained.
Father LaBo noted he and Canter got to work because of “the priest shortage and to equip our people for positions in ministry and within the Church.” It is a “basic development program that will help people get the foundation that they need for leadership positions,” he explained.
Participants meet at a parish for an all-day Saturday course led by St. Leo professors or other professionals within the diocese with master’s or doctoral degrees. The hope is laity will be empowered to continue to the next step, the LIMEX program offered through Loyola University – offered through the diocese for more than 20 years.
“By virtue of your Baptism you are called to be a priest. We recognize the priesthood of the baptized,” Father LaBo stated. “During the program we help people discern what area of ministry they’re really interested in and what suits them. Then we start getting people moving in that direction while they are in the program so when they finish, they can step right into it.”
Director of the Office of Laity, Family and Life, Dan Boyd, stressed the importance of the ministry. “In order for the Church to flourish in any age, all the baptized, laity, religious, and clergy must answer Christ’s call to evangelize and share the Good News with the entire world. The more fully we accept this invitation from Jesus, the more He will be able to work through us to build His Kingdom here on earth. Our diocesan Lay Ecclesial Ministry program is helping to form the laity to accept this very mission and to thrive in the mission field.”
Canter saw the need to “answer the call” with urgency, so he and Father LaBo focused on the needs of the Church. “The topics we deal with are everything from Scripture, to what is Church; what is ecclesiology; what is theology; what is Sacramental theology? We look at the pastoral letters of the bishops in terms of what is culture and how do we work with the marginated, etcetera,” Canter explained. “You get an overall sense of ministry from that perspective.” He said the Lay Ecclesial Ministry falls into a mid-level formation.
“We assume some people are formed, but in reality, most need additional formation” said Tomás Evans, director of adult ministry at the diocese. Evans emphasizes the pastoral formation element. He says, one can know something in their brain, but how to apply it and live it is a different story. He noted, “Many people feel knowledge is important, and I would agree with that, but the application is equally important.”
He said one must ask, “How do I help my parish to live it? How can I help my parish have more of an encounter with Jesus?”
Aimee and Leon Holzer are parishioners at St. Joseph in Lakeland. Aimee was already a sacristan when she and Leon chose to participate in the Lay Ecclesial Ministry program. After its completion, both decided to continue with LIMEX. Shortly after Leon became Catholic in 2019, he and Aimee became facilitators for the Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at their parish. “We have found a treasure in participating in the Lay Ecclesial Ministry (LEM) and LIMEX,” Aimee said. “It has directed our eyes on what truly matters, especially in the difficult circumstances over the last two years. We cannot adequately express in words how these educational ministries have deepened our hunger to know more about God, our Catholic faith, and how we can be better servants to the Church.”
Currently Lay Ecclesial Ministry certification is being offered in the Western Deanery through St. Joseph Parish in Lakeland and through the Central Deanery at Holy Redeemer Parish in Kissimmee. Courses are offered in English and Spanish at both locations and Evans hopes to expand throughout the diocese in the future.
If you are interested in the Lay Ecclesial Ministry program please contact Tomás Evans at email@example.com
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, November 03, 2021