Small Christian communities inspire Gospel living

“The Catholic footprint in the north state is huge,” says Richard Cherveny, regional coordinator for youth and young adult ministry for the North State Catholic Revival of the diocese, as he explains the magnitude of work well underway within four deaneries and more than 30 parishes.

“We want to enliven our culture by living the Gospel,” and build a dialogue with all people, Richard heartily outlines, emphasizing the ultimate goals of “knowing the person next to you in the pew and beyond, catechesis, and engagement with the community Monday through Saturday.”

Richard aptly connects the work of the North State Catholic Revival with the “New Evangelization” – calling all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize -- and the unique, if not intimidating, charge to reach out to people in nearly 30,000 mostly rural square miles from Yuba and Sutter counties northward to the Oregon border.

“It’s really a rich place to serve,” he observes, speaking from experience. The former seminarian moved to Red Bluff and Sacred Heart Parish 17 years ago from the Diocese of San Bernardino and engrossed himself in family, ministry and education. Married with four children, he served two years as principal of Sacred Heart School, and campus minister at Mercy High School for 14 years. He was appointed last January as regional coordinator and has also been serving as acting associate director for the North State Catholic Revival.

While every north state parish enjoys the flexibility to implement programs appropriate for its needs, Sacred Heart Parish chose Arise Together With Christ, which offers a parish-centered, small group approach to inspire Gospel living in the fullest measure over the next three years. The Spanish-language parallel offering – Levantate Unámonos en Cristo – assures outreach to the region’s fast-growing and vital Hispanic/Latino demographic.

The first “season” of small group meetings wraps up early in November with plans to reconvene again in the spring and fall of 2018 and 2019, for a total of five six-week periods. The small Christian communities often gather in the comfort of leaders’ homes on a weekly basis. A large-scale convocation for the greater community of faith will serve to “send off” participants as faithful citizens and missionary disciples sometime during the spring of 2019.

“This is how we will meet the poor and feed the hungry,” Richard says, envisioning a future point in time when the larger Catholic community of the north state will be inspired to serve and act in faith every day of the week and individuals will truly live the Gospel in everything they do.  

“We’re building the toolset that will make it happen,” Richard explains, suggesting a gradual process of identifying gifts and talents through small groups, offering catechetical resources, and ultimately encouraging civic engagement and outreach.

Renew International partnered with the North State Catholic Revival to train and prepare group leaders throughout the region as a component of the Rural Catholic Conference on Sept. 23.  Sacred Heart Parish sent more than 20 group facilitators to the conference for specialized Arise/Levantate training, including Virginia Hall and Cristina Mojarro-Estrella. A variety of sessions were designed to help them lead English and Spanish-speaking group members to encounter God in the everyday, and to more fully experience a deepened individual faith.

 “My job is to help people feel welcome, to share and interact,” says Virginia, a longtime adult faith formation ministry leader and new Arise facilitator.  “This is really important; to bond in the body of Christ.”

 When Virginia moved to Red Bluff in 2000, she thought how nice it could be to have “little communities for weekly meetings to share insights about the Gospel.” As a newcomer, she did not know anyone and imagined the model which is now taking shape. “It’s finally happening,” she revels, drawing a comparison to the well-known fellowship of other Christian denominations.

 “We can learn from this,” she continues, emphasizing the appeal of being together, getting to know each other and “feeling the Spirit within.” 

“The holiness of the Lord’s presence, the sacraments, and our sacred spaces” rightly command the utmost focus among the faithful, Virginia maintains, while also asserting the need to develop the “fellowship piece.” “The Lord wants us to be one,” she says with thoughtful conviction. “I hope to see that others who aren’t in the parish – those who aren’t comfortable – may be invited to join groups,” she says, certain that sharing and learning breathes life and faith into people and the larger community.

Cristina, who is Levantate group facilitator, leads one of 10 Spanish-speaking groups at Sacred Heart Parish. She sees the small groups as opportunities to “get together in Christ, helping one another communicate, and grow closer to God.”

“As a facilitator, I want people to be more confident in giving testimony,” Cristina says, acknowledging her own desire to grow in this way. “This was a ‘call’ to me,” viewing her participation as a chance “to be spiritually strong in my faith and to trust God.”

Cristina believes people are “hungry” to live and know their faith, “but they don’t know how,” she says. The mother of three young children says her family immersed themselves in the parish and school over the past year and thinks “once we all focus and dedicate time and prayer to this, the Holy Spirit will convey what we are to do.”

 “It is the Holy Spirit helping me to help others,” Cristina says, pleased with the training, retreats, website resources and catechetical materials. “It has been so inspiring, so fulfilling,” she shares, insisting “that’s what Christ wants for us: to share what we learn, and to know how to share with others.”     

At the Rural Catholic Conference, attendees from the north state heard English and Spanish keynote presentations, attended workshops on a range of topics, and celebrated Mass with Bishop Jaime Soto.  The invigorating day served as a springboard for uniting the faithful and heartening leadership under the banner of the North State Catholic Revival.

Richard indicates that other parishes are tapping other catechetical resources to grow and nurture the overarching initiative of the North State Catholic Revival. St. John the Baptist Parish in Chico registered for the Augustine Institute’s “Formed” online content, which provides one example of how other parishes can surpass distance and language barriers.

 “There are many threads,” Richard says, describing the revival and the importance of ongoing formation and facilitator training, whether through the small Christian communities of Arise and Levantate or other programs. “No one is ‘done’ with formation,” he notes, and “it’s always a challenge, but we must always be engaged in formation” for authentic, daily and far-reaching Gospel living.

What is the North State Catholic Revival?

Established in 2015, the North State Catholic Revival formed to serve the unique needs of rural parishes in the north state. Recognizing the expansive region of 14 counties and nearly 30,000 square miles, the ministry strives to provide resources to strengthen Catholic identity and empower leaders to grow in knowledge and service to God’s people.

Through faithful citizenship and missionary discipleship, the goal of the North State Catholic Revival lives in fostering civic engagement and evangelizing everyone. Catechesis, community-building, faith sharing, and living the Gospel are paramount to the revival.

Learn more at

In photo, left to right: Virginia Hall, Richard Cherveny and Cristina Mojarro-Estrella of Sacred Heart Parish in Red Bluff. Photography by Cathy Joyce

Catholic Herald Issue