May 18, 2012

Evangelization Supplement

Modest goals can help parishes carry out a big mission

Patty Watson, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, talks on Oct. 9, 2011, with, from left, Evan and Lauren McCombs, also parishioners, and another visitor to a booth sponsored by the parish that was part of New Albany’s annual “Harvest Homecoming” Festival. The booth was organized by Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s Committee on Evangelization. Evan and Lauren are, respectively, in kindergarten and the second-grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. (Submitted photo)

Patty Watson, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, talks on Oct. 9, 2011, with, from left, Evan and Lauren McCombs, also parishioners, and another visitor to a booth sponsored by the parish that was part of New Albany’s annual “Harvest Homecoming” Festival. The booth was organized by Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s Committee on Evangelization. Evan and Lauren are, respectively, in kindergarten and the second-grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. (Submitted photo) Click for a larger version.

By Sean Gallagher

At first glance, evangelization can seem like a daunting task.

After all, Christ told his disciples just prior to his Ascension to “go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).

Does that include gerbils and dogs?

It did, at least as far as blessings go, for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany last fall when the southern Indiana faith community sponsored a pet blessing close to the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

People living in the neighborhood surrounding the New Albany Deanery faith community were invited to the event.

“We went to each and every critter, whatever they were, from the gerbils on up to the big dogs,” said deacon candidate Jeff Powell, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. “We had threats of a horse, but it never materialized.”

According to Powell, Father Eric Augenstein, the parish’s pastor, blessed about 65 pets.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help may not have proclaimed the Gospel to every creature. But it was a good start.

“It was a very powerful way and a very easy way to get people to come and hear what you’re about,” said Powell. “People love their animals.”

Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s Committee on Evangelization organized the pet blessing. Its members, led by Powell, saw it as a modest means of reaching out beyond the parish to share the joy that they and their fellow parishioners experience by being disciples of Christ.

Later that same month, the committee organized booths manned by parishioners at New Albany’s annual “Harvest Homecoming” festival.

One booth promoted Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. People who staffed the other booth handed out rosaries and prayer cards to visitors. They also had many conversations about the Catholic faith with festival attendees.

“I had one 30-minute conversation about the sacraments with a man who’d never been baptized,” Powell said. “I think we were all surprised with the openness of people and the interest in them to talk.

“It challenged some of our people to step out of their comfort zone a little bit.”

Powell said that some of the people who came to the booth to learn more about the faith, some of whom were inactive Catholics, showed up at the parish in the following weeks for Mass.

Peg McEvoy, associate director of evangelization and family catechesis for the archdiocese, said that it is important for parish groups focused on evangelization to set reasonable goals and concrete action plans to achieve them.

“The first thing that I encourage them to do is to look at what already exists,” said McEvoy. “Then you can begin to see progress without having to start from scratch.”

Powell said that was an important approach for Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s evangelization group.

“We didn’t look to reinvent the wheel with lots of new events,” he said. “We’re a very active parish to start with. We wanted to help the groups that were already there to think in a more evangelizing way about things that are already going. Maybe we should be … promoting them beyond the parish.”

McEvoy also said that expanding pre-existing activities in a parish or the broader community to include evangelization helps remind parishioners that it is the mission of all groups within a parish and not just the responsibility of the pastor or a particular committee.

“Blessed John Paul II reminded us that the Church exists to evangelize,” McEvoy said, “and to take that down to the local level is to say that our parishes exist to evangelize.”

Having a group in a parish to encourage evangelization more broadly is one thing. Getting the parish as a whole to see themselves as evangelists is another.

So says Susan Isaacs, coordinator of adult faith formation at St. Mary Parish in Lanesville.

“You’ve got to have the motivation to share your faith,” Isaacs said.

And from her experience, that motivation often comes through learning more about the faith.

“I’ve seen that in my own life and in the life of family and friends,” Isaacs said. “The more we learn, the more we tend to talk about Church stuff with each other, the more we tend to see the role of the Church or of Catholic thought in everyday situations.

“That just makes it easier to talk about it at work or wherever in relationship to the news or whatever is going on.”

Isaacs said that adult faith formation offerings in parishes that connect the faith with what is happening in the world right now would be helpful.

“I think it’s most important to be able to discuss things that are in the news rather than picking something that could seem really obscure … ,” she said. “So you might take the HHS mandate and learn why this is an issue and what the Church teaches [on issues related to it].”

McEvoy agrees, saying that adult faith formation can “help each of us better apply our faith in our everyday lives—in our work, in our homes, in our relationships, whether it’s with neighbors, family, whomever.

“To evangelize those that are baptized and catechized is to help them take the faith out into the world,” McEvoy said. “That’s our job as laity, to take the Gospel and illuminate those everyday activities with it.” †

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