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December 21, 2015 | Volume 91 Number 4


Roanoke’s Valley-wide Advent Mission a success

Linda Bennett just retired as the Director of Evangelization at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke. Her last big undertaking in her position there was to organize the Valley-Wide Advent Mission, which took place December 6-9 in the Roanoke Valley. In recent years, the mission had always been held solely at St. Andrew’s, but this year, the four-day event took place in a different parish each evening.

“It was an awesome thing,” said Bennett. “The staff came together from the other parishes, forming a great core group to think things through in the planning.”

Sr. Judy Gomila, MSC, served as the keynote speaker at this year’s mission event. Sr. Judy is a Marianite Sister of Holy Cross, based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She holds a Masters in Theology and Religious Studies from St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada.

“She has served the Church for over 50 years,” said Bennett. “She is an amazing woman who brings so much energy with her when she speaks. She has such a love for God and has a way of bringing her message to the rest of us in a way we can easily understand.”

Mrs. Bennett, along with Karen Melendez of Our Lady of Nazareth (OLN) in Roanoke and Barbara Hairfield of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Salem, worked together to make the mission a welcoming event for the entire family. Two of the evening programs were offered as “intergenerational sessions,” where Sister Judy offered her program to the adults while the staff led related activities for children in grades K-8, so that all could understand the message at their individual levels. Childcare was provided for the younger children.

“On the first night, there was a potluck dinner at OLN,” Bennett explained, “and on the second night, finger foods were offered after the program at OLPH. It was so great to see people come in on that second night at OLPH and greet one another because they had met the night before at OLN.”

Though there was a different topic for each evening’s program, the overall theme was built around Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy, as well as the Diocesan theme of the domestic church, the family.

“The topic on the first evening was ‘Family Feast’, which focused on the importance of family,” recounted Bennett. The following evening, a Valley-wide Reconciliation service followed the program, so Sister Judy’s speech was, appropriately, “Forever Forgiven.” The third night’s program coincided with the official start to the Year of Mercy, so the theme was, “Oh Mercy Me, Open the Doors Y’all.” Sister Judy discussed the Pope’s document on the Year of Mercy and what it means. The program was followed by a Valley-wide Liturgy in celebration of the Immaculate Conception and the opening of the Jubilee “Year of Mercy.” On the final day of the mission, the concluding program topic was “Anchored in His Mercy,” after which another Valley-wide Reconciliation opportunity was provided.

“All programs were very highly attended,” affirmed Bennett. “It was wonderfully well-received.”

Music was an integral part of the programs as well. “There was a song specifically written for the Year of Mercy that Kelly Wheelbarger (of St. Andrew’s) performed. Dan Keeley (of OLN) and Barbara Fraticelli (of OLPH) also provided uplifting music,” said Bennett.

The event was a huge success and a fulfilling final work experience for Linda Bennett, who officially retired the day after the mission completed.

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