And so it begins – the Year of Evangelization in the Diocese of Providence. It is, I’m convinced, one of most important programs in the recent history of the Diocese. It’s an initiative filled with enormous potential, but one that requires all of us working together with personal dedication, enthusiasm and joy.
The Year of Evangelization began on Saturday, October 10 with the Evangelization Congress held at Providence College. The program brought together nearly 300 people representing most of the parishes in the Diocese. We heard inspiring presentations, discussed practical ideas, viewed awesome videos, perused informative resources, and, perhaps most importantly, prayed in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
From every measure the Congress was a huge success. Our Evangelization Committee worked really hard in preparing for the day, and the success was due, in large part, to their thoughtfulness and careful planning. The folks who attended the Congress were united in their appreciation for the day and their excitement about participating in this renewed call to preach the Gospel and share the good news of our Catholic Faith.
The purposes of our Year of Evangelization are three . . .
First, to renew and revitalize the faith and enthusiasm of every parish, school and organization of our diocesan Church. This will involve paying close attention to the needs of our parishioners and examining the fonts of our faith – our worship, education, service and stewardship.
Second, to reach out to inactive Catholics, those countless souls who were baptized and raised Catholic, but, for a variety of reasons, have drifted away. It’s a huge population. A recent survey indicates that 15% of Americans don’t identify with any religion, and that 35% of that group had been raised Catholic. But the story’s more personal than that, for just about every family has fallen-away, inactive Catholics, often causing heartache to parents, grandparents, spouses and siblings. We want to invite the “inactives” back to the Lord, the Church and the sacraments, to welcome them home to their Catholic family.
Third, to share the good news of the Catholic Faith with the members of our community who’ve never been Catholic – the “unchurched” as they’re often called. We’re blessed with many spiritual riches and great truths in the Catholic Church – we do lots of good deeds everyday. Our Year of Evangelization is an opportunity to speak of the centrality of Christ, to tell our Catholic story, and to joyfully invite others to join our family of faith.
The Evangelization initiative will take place on several levels. First, the Diocese itself will do its part in arranging programs, providing publicity, offering resources and coordinating evangelization efforts.
It will also be important for parishes to actively participate in this process. When Catholics “come home,” as we expect they will, or when others seek more information or contact with the Church, they’ll do so at the parish level. After all, as Pope John Paul said, “The parish is a privileged place where the faithful experience the Church.”
We’ve promised that the evangelization program won’t fall only on the shoulders of the parish and indeed it won’t. But it’s critical that parishes participate in some way; that they’re prepared to welcome those who come to their door. Each parish will be encouraged to develop evangelization programs that are helpful and appropriate for their local needs.
Even with aggressive diocesan and parish leadership, however, we fully realize that the most effective program of evangelization is person-to-person contact a simple invitation, a gentle discussion, a personal testimony, an offer to pray for someone’s intentions, a willingness to help someone in need. You, my friend, are the most important evangelist of all!
I remember hearing about an Italian grandmother who insisted that her children and grandchildren attend Mass every Sunday – or they wouldn’t be invited to the family dinner that day. “If you don’t have time for the Lord’s meal you don’t have time for this meal either,” she declared. Mass attendance in that family was very consistent.
And while in Ohio I met an older African-American woman – a noble soul and devout Catholic – who had been deeply involved in her parish throughout her life, attending daily Mass and praying the Rosary every morning for many, many years. As time progressed, however, it became more difficult for her to leave her modest home, especially early in the morning. Undaunted, every morning at 6:00 o’clock she telephoned her friend – also a devout Catholic – and together they prayed the Rosary over the telephone.
We can only imagine the power of those prayers storming the gates of heaven, and as a result, many people in the community turned to the “Rosary ladies” for special intentions.
With our diocesan evangelization program, we’re on the verge of a powerful new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a time of purification and renewal for our diocesan Church. I believe that. And I also believe that the only thing that can stop us now would be the barriers we ourselves erect – our apathy, our skepticism, our cynicism. If we grasp this opportunity with enthusiasm and joy I have no doubt that the Lord is about to do great things for us.
But remember, the most important minister of evangelization is you – your support of the Church, your personal example of faith, and your willingness to reach out to family, friends and neighbors to speak of the wonderful difference Jesus Christ has made in your life!