North Jersey Parish Presents Civil Discourse Event Sept. 22

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

POMPTON LAKES, N.J. — St. Mary’s Parish is offering a social justice program next week, open to the public, designed to coach attendees on civil ways to engage in discussions about controversial topics. “Enhanced Understanding Through Respectful Dialogue,” a dinner-dialogue timed to be just weeks from the next presidential election, will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 22 in the parish’s Carnevale Center.

The purpose of the evening “is to help each other engage in weighty discussions without allowing our egos to get in the way,” said Jackie Schramm, director of St. Mary’s social justice committees. The dinner-dialogue will show ways to have a higher, more conscious conversation. “Though we are using the upcoming elections as a theme for the evening, attendees will be able to transfer ideas to any conversation with family, co-workers, peers, and neighbors. The skills and tools you learn at this dinner-dialogue can be transferred to all levels of engagement.”

Russell Testa, director of the Province’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, shown in photo behind the one above, will guide the small-group discus­sions that will follow the dinner.

The program will not endorse any candidate or political party, but will examine concerns and issues that program attendees indicate are important to them, according to Schramm. “The aim is respectful dialogue, not like-minded agreement.”

Schramm told parishioners at weekend Masses that Holy Name Province “is at the forefront of peace-building activities among churches and congregations in our nation, and in advocating for important issues of our time.”

“The point of the program is to learn — and practice — the skills of respectful Christian dialogue around the topic of the 2012 elections and our experience as Catholics,” said Testa. “The small group discussions that evening will include a reminder of the rules of Christian dialogue and a brief review of the Church’s approach toward elections.”

Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor of St. Mary’s, said that often people tend to “defend positions and don’t really take so well to challenges or disagreements. Unfortunately, this often results in no conversation with one another rather than a good, healthy respectful exchange of ideas.” The skills that will be taught next week are “good for talking about the election, religion or any other issues where there is a variety of opinons,” he said.

The program’s cost is $10, which will cover dinner and participation in small-group discussions. The registration deadline is Sept. 17. Registration can be done through the parish website,

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.