May 10, 2013

Evangelization Supplement

Young adult Catholics find creative ways to share their faith with others

Anne Marie Brummer, left, and Amanda DeRoche smile as they show off the Easter baskets that they helped to deliver to downtown Indianapolis residents during Holy Week. Members of St. John the Evangelist Parish delivered 500 baskets containing chocolate, flowers and faith-related materials to non-Catholics and fallen-away Catholics to invite them to the church. (Submitted photo)

Anne Marie Brummer, left, and Amanda DeRoche smile as they show off the Easter baskets that they helped to deliver to downtown Indianapolis residents during Holy Week. Members of St. John the Evangelist Parish delivered 500 baskets containing chocolate, flowers and faith-related materials to non-Catholics and fallen-away Catholics to invite them to the church. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

At first thought, it’s hard to make the faith connection between a young couple enjoying cold beers on a relaxing summer evening and strangers stopping by an apartment building to deliver a basket containing chocolate candy.

Yet both approaches are part of the creative ways that young adult Catholics at the parish level have tried to bring non-Catholics and fallen-away Catholics to a life in the Church.

Of course, informal discussions of faith in a relaxed atmosphere while drinking a favorite beverage have long been the emphasis of Theology on Tap events, but they led to some intriguing conversations between young married couples when they were started last summer in the Richmond Catholic Community.

“In our Theology on Tap series, we were blessed to have a number of Catholic women married to non-Catholic men join us as a couple,” says John Aikin, 27, one of the leaders of Richmond’s young adult Catholic group for the parishes of Holy Family, St. Andrew and St. Mary. “There were a few discussions about the importance of marriage, the Church’s role in marriage, and what Christ intended for his Church.

“Some of the women told us that the days following those discussions were filled with some of the best conversations about religion and marriage that they had ever had with their spouse, and the experience brought them closer. Their husbands expressed gratitude for inviting them to come. The husbands told them that because it wasn’t in a formal Mass setting and was at a laid-back venue as an informal discussion, they felt relaxed, and ended up opening their ears and eyes in a discussion they normally shut off.”

The lure of chocolate and flowers

That openness and those kinds of conversations are major goals as young adult Catholics increasingly become more involved in efforts to evangelize in their parishes, according to Megan Fish, director of evangelization and communications at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“It gives young adults a way to share their faith and grow their relationship with Christ even deeper by sharing that love of Christ with others,” says Fish, who is 26.

“So many young people are searching and seeking something authentic, and the Catholic faith provides them with the fullness of this authenticity. It’s a powerful witness to see young adults living their faith, and having a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

During Holy Week this year, that powerful witness at St. John Parish came with a delicious taste of chocolate and the sweet fragrance of a spring flower bulb. Teams of parishioners distributed 500 Easter baskets to apartments and homes in the downtown area, and to students at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

Besides the candy and the flower bulb, each basket contained a card listing Holy Week Masses, a pamphlet that described the core of Catholic doctrine, a magnet listing St. John’s Mass schedule, and the book Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly.

“We’ve had such great feedback,” says Anne Marie Brummer, team director of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at St. John Parish and IUPUI.

“A freshman gave it to her professor who is Catholic, and they’ve been talking about the book Rediscovering Catholicism in their classroom. One of the students in a fraternity at IUPUI said that all of the Greeks were talking about it the day we gave them out on campus. One girl we passed an Easter basket to in the dorm just could not believe it was a free gift. I think people felt very honored that the Church would reach out to them—people who they didn’t even know.”

Brummer’s best story involves one of the students to whom she gave a basket. He told her that he had always had an interest in the Catholic Church, but he also had concerns about it that kept him away.

“He took the Easter basket, and a week later I received a text from him asking me if he could attend Mass,” says Brummer, who is 26. “He came to Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday and then joined the eucharistic procession after it.

“He has since come to Mass every Sunday and is reading Rediscovering Catholicism. He’s been asking how he can join the Church.”

Striving for three goals

Hannah Brescher hopes that young women will respond to the first-ever retreat at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis for women ages 20 to 40. The June 15 retreat is one of the evangelization efforts of the parish’s young adult program that was started a year ago.

“We have been planning it since January,” says Brescher, who is 28. “We think it will be a great gathering for women in and outside of St. Monica wanting to go deeper in their faith.”

She felt that same desire five years ago after graduating from college.

“It was hard to connect with other people my age,” she recalls. “It frustrated me, and I began looking outside of the Church for my spiritual growth and fellowship. I joined some non-denominational groups, which were great, but I still yearned for a more Catholic-centered group of people my age that I could bounce questions off and go deeper with.”

She helped start that kind of group at St. Monica, a group that has developed a Thirsty Thursdays spiritual growth program. The program begins with 5:30 p.m. Mass in the parish church, followed by pizza, snacks, time to socialize and a discussion of the upcoming Sunday readings.

“We want to be a group that meets the social needs of people, but we also want to meet their spiritual needs, and specifically engage them in the sacramental life of the parish and Church,” says Patrick Sullivan, 24, who leads the young adult ministry at St. Monica.

Striving for those three goals can lead to a faith-filled community of young adults that enhances the life of a parish and evangelizes to people who aren’t part of the Catholic faith, Sullivan believes.

“We’re trying to create a vibrant community that is joyful, welcoming and committed, so that someone who has never walked through the door sees a place where they can be fed spiritually,” he says.

“When we engage in the social life of the Church, the spiritual life of the Church and the sacramental life of the Church, we can then take it into the workplace, and that becomes a form of evangelization by the way we carry ourselves and live our faith.”

And sometimes it can all start with the offer of a drink or a basket containing chocolate, flowers and an invitation. †

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