A Whole Lot of Good Stuff Going On . . . Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 11 January 2007 10:12

This is really an addendum to Keith's post "Diocesan Kudos" but seemed a big long for a comment.

Some parishes in this country are already quietly becoming virtual hotbeds of evangelism. In the course of our travels, we have come across a number of parish-based evangelization processes that have revolutionized the lives of literally millions of Catholics over the past 40 years.

The power of having it happen in the parish is that participants don’t get the impression that their faith is just between “me and Jesus” but experience a powerful spiritual awakening in the midst and facilitated by the Christian community. From the very beginning, discipleship is both personal and communal. As the new adult catechism puts it: "I believe and we believe".

I use the adjective “quiet” because in this country, effective Catholic evangelization that actually results in intentional discipleship is almost always a grassroots effort usually put on by (and often created by) lay people for lay people with the pastor’s approval. (The nationally known programs such as Renew or Disciples in Mission are not intended to provide initial proclamation of the Gospel. They supplement direct proclamation.)

Most direct evangelization processes have no websites or staff, operate on a shoestring, and spread almost entirely by word of mouth. The “national headquarters”, if it exists and you can find it, (it took me a year and half to locate one such office!) is often run by a few elderly lay volunteers armed only with a kitchen table and an answering machine.

In Boise, we have been working with a parish that has been transformed by a weekend Evangelization Retreat that focuses on the renewal of the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Over the past 8 years, well over 500 adults have been through these retreats, which are facilitated by lay people for lay people and now draws significant numbers of non-Catholics to every retreat. Like Baptists who are coming to be evangelized by Catholics!

I can’t begin to count the number of retreatants who have told us that their lives were dramatically changed by that experience. Many of these people had been away from the Church for decades and now are passionate in their desire to follow Christ. And their passion has changed the life of that community.

Attendance at Mass and personal giving has risen significantly. Two hundred adults now meet weekly to share their faith in the small Christian communities that have arisen from the retreat. Parishioners are hungry to learn more about their faith and fill every adult formation class that is offered by the diocese.

So many volunteers want to help put on the evangelization retreats that the team struggles to find places for everyone! And word of what is happening has spread around the state. Large groups of parishioners have charted buses at their own expense to take the retreat to tiny mountain and desert parishes around the state. They will do anything and go anywhere to share the joy and power of the Gospel that has changed their lives. But almost no one has ever heard of the Evangelization Retreats outside Idaho.

The sheer numbers involved in these processes around the country and the world are staggering. For instance, over 1 million American Catholics have gone through Christ Renews His Parish weekends since the first one was given in a Toledo in 1969. Sixty million people world-wide have attended “Life in the Spirit” seminars.

In the evangelical world, evangelizing processes that impacted those kinds of numbers would have drawn thousands of eager pastors and leaders who would come from around the country to learn about the process. (For example, 400,000 pastors from all over the world have studied under Rick Warren, author of the Purpose-Driven Life, at Saddle-back Church in southern California.)

While it is comforting to know that few Catholic evangelists have to worry about the temptations of religious empire building, it says a great deal about our priorities as a community that they labor at something so crucial in such obscurity.