NEWARK- The fervor of evangelization is sweeping the Archdiocese of Newark.
For two nights this month, pastors, parish staff and ministry leaders gathered at the Archdiocesan Center to learn about programs that will help them spread the Gospel to fellow parishioners as well as those who have fallen away from the Church. Sessions were held in both English and Spanish.
Over a year ago, the Evangelization Task Force was created. One of its recommendations was to reopen the Office of Evangelization, whose mission is to serve “as a resource for programs, courses, workshops and consultations intended to complement and enhance the evangelizing efforts in the Archdiocese of Newark.”
The task force also began researching plans that would best assist and support parishes in the area of evangelization.
According to Most Rev. Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., Auxiliary Bishop of Newark and chairman of the Evangelization Task Force, RENEW International’s “Why Catholic? Journey Through the Catechism” and the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association’s (PNCEA) “Disciples in Mission” were chosen in particular for their use of small group faith formation, which is “important for the growth of parishes,” and for their evangelization outreach.
Why Catholic? and Disciples in Mission, Bishop da Cunha continued, “not only invite” parishioners, but they provide the support and consistency needed for parishes to flourish in these programs. They “invite, welcome, and feed.”
RENEW International, a Catholic organization begun in the Archdiocese of Newark in 1976, “fosters spiritual renewal, evangelization and the transformation of the world through parish-based small Christian communities.”
The Why Catholic? campaign, which was launched in July 2004, is an adult faith-formation program that looks closely at what makes up Catholic identity and practical ways to strengthen one’s faith.
Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the strategy offers guidelines, training and support from Why Catholic? staff members, retreat opportunities and a parish kit which includes resource materials for 48 sessions (to be extended over four years) on Catholic beliefs, sacraments, morality and prayer, with scriptural references and reflection questions.
Why Catholic? fosters the goals of Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) pastoral plan for adult faith formation. It also makes a concerted effort to reach out to young adults, through participation in programs like Theology on Tap.
Msgr. Thomas Kleissler, founder of RENEW International, who introduced his main speakers for the evening in the English session, Sister Terry Rickard, O.P., coordinator of Why Catholic?, and Michael Brough, director of RENEW International, asserted that everyone gathered was present because “we love the Word, we love our Christian faith. …We know there’s good news, and we want to spread it.”
Sister Terry went on to explain that while years ago, Catholics often believed and did things simply because that was what they were taught to do, whether they understood why or not, now many Catholics don’t even know what it is that they are supposed to do and believe.
She noted that Why Catholic? provides a means of learning or reconnecting with the faith in order to become fully engaged in a Catholic experience of a personal relationship with God and in small group and parish sharing. From there, one is able to share with others, so that their lives may be enriched with the Catholic faith and tradition as well.
Brough discussed the more practical aspects of the plan, such as timelines and costs. Pointing out that Why Catholic? staff will be available for assistance throughout the entire process, he assured attendees, “We’re going to walk with you every step of the way.”
Father Kenneth Boyack, C.S.P., president of PNCEA, began his presentation saying, “Jesus founded the Church. And when we say that, we mean, Jesus founded us.”
Disciples in Mission was begun by PNCEA in 1993. The program’s Parish Leadership Manual is now in its third edition, incorporating the experiences and input of participating parishes over the years.
It is a “pastoral process that integrates the Sunday liturgies, small faith-sharing groups, catechesis, family activities, teen groups, planning and follow-up activities into a coordinated parish-wide experience of evangelization.”
Established around a three year plan, with guidance and support from a website and resource materials that include a full parish kit, the program promotes the three goals from the USCCB’s Go and Make Disciples, a national evangelization plan, which are to live the faith fully, invite others and transform society in Christ.
Disciples in Mission also emphasizes outreach to the laity. Designated parish lay leaders, along with the pastor and other parish priests, receive training and formation in order to take parishioners on the journey through the program. This lay leadership is cited by PNCEA as one of the “key successes.”
Referring to Pope John Paul II’s words in Mission of the Redeemer, his encyclical on evangelization, Father Boyack emphasized that there is an urgency to evangelize, especially given that the Catholic Church is “competing” with others churches and religions. He added that as Catholics, we are called to be “evangelizing disciples of Christ.”
In his remarks at the information sessions, Archbishop John J. Myers stressed that it is time for the Church to move beyond all the bad publicity it has received.
“We are about Jesus Christ,” he asserted, noting that both Why Catholic? and Disciples in Mission will “help us go about living the life of disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The archbishop also greeted participants in the Spanish-speaking meeting, asking them to be “instruments of evangelization,” particularly to other members of the Hispanic community.
Archbishop Myers has published a pastoral letter on evangelization, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” printed in the March 9 edition of The Catholic Advocate.
Deacon Richard Searls of St. Anthony Parish, Belleville, commented that he likes the fact that Why Catholic? highlights outreach to young adults.
When asked if he thought the program would do well in his parish, he replied, “If we have the response from young people, it would be successful,” citing a number of young families coming into St. Anthony’s.
Observing that evangelization is crucial “for our own salvation,” Deacon Searls also stressed, “We are all called to be responsible for our brothers and sisters.”
Jean Naugle and Christine Maloney of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Scotch Plains, explained that their parish had started the RENEW 2000 program and had a good turnout.
In the past five years, however, participation in the parish’s small faith communities has dwindled, they commented.
“It will be interesting if we launch [Why Catholic?], what the response will be,” said Naugle, who believes there are many people “looking for adult catechesis—this is a good answer to that.”
Liliana Soto, coordinator of the Office of Evangelization, pointed out that parishes are encouraged to adopt an evangelization program.
“Because the Church exists in order to evangelize, that should be the focus of all we do,” she said.
The hope, the coordinator remarked, is that parishes will carry out the three goals stated in the bishops’ Go and Make Disciples and indicated that both programs, which are “tools to enkindle the fire of the Holy Spirit,” can help them do that.
“These programs will help form parishioners in the truth of their Catholic faith and help parishes become evangelizing parishes that will then reach out to inactive Catholics. For we can only offer what we truly know and believe,” she continued.
Soto added that her office is there to help parishes in all their evangelizing efforts and noted that one can only be successful in evangelization “if you have an enthusiasm for your faith. …We’re all working on this together.
“It’s up to all of us—everyone—to take a personal responsibility,” she said.
Soto also explained that because there are so many nationalities present in the Archdiocese of Newark, evangelizing here is like evangelizing throughout the world, as Jesus Christ has asked us to do: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).