Efforts have been made by the San Fernando Region Pastoral Council’s evangelization committee over a two-year period to discern an “evangelization vision” for parish communities fostering the awakening of faith and intentional discipleship.
“Many, many parishioners that I have talked to want to open themselves up to people they know are unchurched, family members and others who have been away from the church, but they just didn’t really know what to tell them,” said Frank Luciano, chair of the evangelization committee.
“We wanted to put together something so that when they finally did sit down to have that conversation with them, they were telling them the right thing and not pushing them away or in the wrong direction,” explained Luciano.
He noted that the evangelization committee has developed four vision priorities: To seek out and draw in the unbelieving and the unchurched; to foster life-long discipleship and spiritual growth; to assist all the baptized in the discernment of their spiritual gifts (charisms) and vocations; and to equip and support extraordinary apostolates. In short, to go and “make disciples of all nations,” as exhorted by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20.
Luciano said careful planning was instrumental in drawing the large turnout for the Making Disciples workshop. Presentations were made to the individual deaneries in the region, letting priests know about the event well in advance. Then, informational packets that included sample pulpit announcements were sent to the 45 area parishes.
“The packets also included a prayer for evangelization that we put together,” noted Luciano. “That was the beginning: prayer, to have everyone pray that this would be a successful venture.” And, that participants would “experience a new Pentecost,” added Bobby Vidal, evangelization committee member.
Vidal said committee members were “absolutely enthusiastic about the turnout. It is a little surprising,” he admitted, “but having presented and invited the pastors, school principals and directors of religious education to participate in this experience has really brought on board a lot of people.”
“It’s exciting,” commented San Fernando Region Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, who opened the all-day workshop with a warm welcome and invocation. He noted that one in every ten Americans is a former Catholic. In the LA Archdiocese, 43 percent of the residents are unaffiliated with any church.
“That says we have a lot of work to do, but this is a wonderful start today,” said the bishop. “A number of priests have told me, ‘We can’t do this alone.’ Now we feel like we have a whole group of our parishioners who want to collaborate and are willing to work together. It’s our responsibility to keep it going,” said Bishop Wilkerson.
“We’re hoping this will go to other regions within the archdiocese,” said Luciano. “We have come up with an implementation plan. The hope is that, at the end of the workshops (next session Jan. 8-9), we will have 25-30 trainers trained in evangelization for the region.
“This is not a program, it’s a process,” declared Luciano. “We’re trying to put people in place so they can travel throughout the region and put on mini-seminars like this so that it continues to carry on, so it’s not just a one-time event.”
The evangelization trainers will be able to provide parishes (both in English and Spanish) with practical pastoral tools to recognize pre-discipleship stages and to foster a church culture of intentional discipleship.
After receiving the training in evangelization, individuals and parish communities will be able to
- Receive formation that will equip them to perceive, understand and interpret the world and the reality of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals and whole communities.
- Have the practical skills in proposing faith to others in inviting and compelling ways.
- Listen for and recognize pre-discipleship stages in others, and learn how best to respond to others pastorally.
- Utilize the many experiences of parish and school life to create evangelizing opportunities.
- Integrate the four priorities of the region into all they do.
- Form others in taking up their baptismal call to witness and proclaim the saving power of Jesus Christ in their school, workplace, family life and secular initiatives.
“Our region has just begun implementing the vision!” exclaimed Vidal, who directs evangelization and lay formation at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Santa Clarita. He noted that the evangelization committee has received a grant, which it will use to underwrite the “Called and Gifted” program, training at least one member in every parish in the region in the Christian discipline of assisting others in discerning their charisms.
According to Luciano, the ultimate goal is to have trained parishioners to help bring about the new evangelization as well as ongoing formation envisioned by the Synod. “We want to have a whole variety of parishioners in the parish who can help as opposed to just telling people, ‘Go see Father.’ An engaged parish is what we’re looking for,” said Luciano.
Equipping Catholic leaders to evangelize in a post-modern world is a challenge, according to the Oct. 23 presenters, Sherry Weddell and Dominican Father Michael Fones, co-directors of the Colorado-based Catherine of Siena Institute which developed the “Making Disciples” and “Called and Gifted” workshops.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to evangelizing the unchurched in a culture dominated by relativism, individualism and cynicism. Weddell and Fones outlined five “thresholds” on a person’s journey to discipleship: trust, curiosity, openness, seeking and intentional discipleship. Recognizing what threshold a person is at is critical to being an effective evangelizer, emphasized Weddell.
“We need to intentionally foster curiosity in post-modern people” about the person of Jesus Christ at the center of the Catholic faith, said Weddell. She noted that, in today’s society, many people don’t know much about Jesus “and the little bit they know is wrong, because it’s no longer being transmitted through the culture.”
Complicating this situation, parishes often direct people inquiring about the faith to a 4-6 week class covering a multitude of topics. According to Weddell, people can easily get the impression that Jesus is a sub-topic within Catholicism.
“There is no evangelization if the name, the teachings, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth is not proclaimed. He is the center,” declared Weddell.