Father Michael McClane, St. Gregory the Great pastor, visits with parishioners during the March 29 Soup and Stations evening. Joe Moore photo

Father Michael McClane, St. Gregory the Great pastor, visits with parishioners during the March 29 Soup and Stations evening. Joe Moore photo

By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor

Finding a way to bring simplicity, abstinence and prayer into the limelight for Lent is a central goal for parishes in the Diocese. And if they can include a dose of food and fellowship in the process, so much the better.

The ministries of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, have done just that with their Lenten Friday Soup and Stations, allowing the faithful a chance to share each other’s company over a simple meal at 6:30 p.m. and prayerful observance of the Way of the Cross.

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Soup and Stations in St. Gregory the Great Parish

“The simple meal of soup and bread helps attendees to carry out one of the three main activities of Lent: fasting,” said Father Michael McClane, St. Gregory the Great pastor. “In a large parish such as ours, we are always looking for ways for people to come together and spend time with one another in an informal setting.”

The parish’s various ministries have each taken a Friday to prepare and serve the simple soup-and-bread meal. Recitation of the Stations of the Cross takes place directly afterward; the parish’s deacons, who lead the Stations prayers, often select their favorite versions of the Way of the Cross each week, some of which allow for ministry members to participate with the readings.

“This is the first year we are doing Soup and Stations every Friday during Lent,” said Peg Kowalski, volunteer ministry coordinator. In the past, the Elizabeth Ministry had hosted one week, but at the suggestion of Father McClane, the event was extended. When additional groups were invited, “the response was quick and positive,” she added. “We are thrilled with the fellowship and prayerful journey of the Stations each Friday.”

Attendance numbers went up to about 80 when the Elizabeth Ministry hosted the Soup and Stations last year. This year, Kowalski said “the number of people coming for soup has been about 50-55, and the total number of people at Stations has increased to 90-95.”

The team effort has extended to those being served as well. “Many folks in attendance offer to help with the cleanup and setting up the books for Stations,” Kowalski observed. While the meal is simple, “It is the time spent in fellowship that people enjoy.”

Susan Commini, co-chair of the St. Gregory the Great Evangelization Team with Jane Latini, and director of pastoral outreach in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, attested to the positive response among ministries and parishioners.

“The Soup and Stations is a great example of how our parish works and prays together,” she said. “I think inviting the ministries to participate fosters our sense of community … it was a great collaboration.”

The event also interweaves into the Evangelization Team’s mission, Commini explained. “Our ministry is evolving from a project-driven ministry to one that educates and forms … Our mission statement is ‘To foster awareness among parishioners and ministries of every Catholic’s duty to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to assist them in living out that responsibility with courage and love.’”

The Elizabeth Ministry has been hosting Soup and Stations for three years, using donations to purchase the Mary’s Way of the Cross. Part of an international ministry of women helping women, the group particularly supports women in all stages of motherhood.

Carol Moscarello, Elizabeth Ministry coordinator, said the Soup and Stations has helped foster a feeling of community.

“This simple practice was one that I grew up participating in and loved,” she said. “[It] has been simple to implement, and the effect has been beautiful to witness.”

Father McClane said that although the parish has numerous opportunities for gathering outside of liturgy – including an annual picnic, dinner dance and carnival – he believes the parish needs more events like this one, where ministries come together.

“The spirit of the world can be harsh and stressful at times,” he explained, “and the Church can provide a setting that is welcoming and inviting, where people experience togetherness and unity … By learning about other ministries, they can think of more ways to collaborate and work together, especially if they are carrying out similar missions.”