The Apostolic Underground Print
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 10 April 2007 07:53
Over the past 60 years, a grass roots, hand-to-mouth, lay-lead network of small and large evangelizing groups has emerged in the Church. Everyone knows about them and few people talk about them. We take them for granted like background noise.

If forced to notice them, a goodly number of the Catholic chattering classes (conservative and liberal) shrug them off as faintly ridiculous groups filled with well-meaning but faintly ridiculous people who are filled with an embarrassingly literal and emotional enthusiasm for the faith. They aren't necessarily even aware of the big issues that interest us: the latest liturgical or curial rumor or social justice fashion or new theological development. Meanwhile these unfashionably ordinary Catholics continue to evangelize other ordinary people. By the millions.

Cursillo, which began in the 40s in Spain, has spread all over the world and spawned a legion of spin-offs, is the original. Eight million people have gone through Cursillo weekends in the past 60 years. And then there's the ubiquitous Life in the Spirit seminar that arose out of the charismatic renewal. Sixty million people have attended Life in the Spirit seminars around the world since the early 70's.

And then there is a quiet apostolic underground of "schools of evangelization" that have sprung up all over the world. Inspired by the documents of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, and John Paul II's call for a new evangelization, they have set out to, well, evangelize the world. In English and Spanish, French, Italian, and Chinese, they form adults (mostly young adults) to become apostles and evangelizers.

There is the Catholic School of Evangelization in Manitoba, Catholic Evangelization and Outreach in St. Augustine, Florida, the Pope John II Society of Evangelists in Hesparia, California, and the Eagle Eye School of Evangelism conducted by the Congregation of St. John in Princeville, Illinois. Or traveling groups like National Evangelization Team (NET) or the Militia Immaculata youth teams who travel the country putting on youth retreats in small town parish basements. (This is a picture of Mark Shea's 18 year old son Matthew - better known to his friends and family as "Cow" - leading an IM retreat in Ponchatoula, Lousiana last month.)

And then there's SOUL, the Servants of Unconditional Love in Picayune, Mississippi.

Picayune. A picayune was the name that the 18th century French inhabitants of New Orleans gave to a small Spanish coin worth about a nickel. Over the centuries, "picayune" has come to mean "trivial" or of "little worth".

I grew up 44 miles from Picayune and even as a Yankee transplant child, I found the town faintly ridiculous. For one thing, it was HOT, 40 miles inland from the perpetual cooling breezes of the Mississippi Gulf Coast where I lived. And it just wasn't the historic, beautiful, culturally rich Gulf Coast where wealthy New Orleanians had spent summers for 150 years. (Ironically, Picayune' population has doubled since 2000 due to Katrina refugees from the coast.)

20% of the Picayune's population lives below the poverty line. The median household income is 27,000. Catholics made up 4% of the county's population in 2000. There is one parish - St. Charles Borromeo. But what a parish.

The Catholic community of St. Charles is determined to give an answer for the hope that is within them. Their parish website is filled with home grown apologetics and catechetical resources and has won all kinds of award for excellence. In 1996, their pastor asked parishioners to submit the questions they were asked by their non Catholics neighbours. The questions were so good and covered such a variety of topics that the pastor published them in a book, I'm Glad You Asked, that local Catholics could use as a reference. (Note: Since most of the local non-Catholics were familiar with the King James version of the Bible, they used that version in formulating their responses. Talk about inculturation!)

St. Charles has Perpetual Adoration and Virtual Stations of the Cross
and a downloadable three year Bible study based upon the lectionary. And in addition, Picayune has its own school of evangelization for young adults.

All part of an apostolic underground led by obscure local Catholics in unfashionable places that most of us don't even know exist. Places where they don't have exquisite liturgies, historic churches, and great scholarship. Places we hardly ever talk about at St. Blog's or the Catholic media. The places where the majority of the really fruitful work of the Kingdom is taking place, has probably always taken place.

Let us praise and rejoice in the apostles of the underground.