Evangelization goal: Cast a wide net
Dominican Father David Caron is wearing multiple hats these days. He has been the new vicar of evangelization for the Office of Evangelization since September 2014.
And, he is the head of the archdiocesan committee for the Jubilee Year of Mercy that launches Dec. 8, when Archbishop Gregory Aymond will open the holy year door at St. Louis Cathedral – the same day that Pope Francis opens the holy door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
As the vicar of evangelization, Father Caron is charged with helping parishes become vibrant and welcoming places of worship with a vision. When the passion for the Catholic faith resonates among parishioners, the love of Jesus is visible to others and it’s easy to evangelize.
“Evangelization is the joyful proclamation of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ,” he said. “It’s the central identity of the church. It is not a program. It is the heart of all ministries we are doing.”
One-stop resource shop
Father Caron has been working feverishly to provide a wealth of resources for parishes to ignite the talents of Catholics parishioners and recognize both what parishes are doing well and what parishes could improve on to prepare people to be disciples of Jesus.
On Nov. 17, he shared one of them in a talk – “Introduction to Evangelization: The Mission is Me” – to St. Joseph the Worker parishioners in Marrero.
“What might God be calling this community to be able to do right now and in the future?” he asked St. Joseph parishioners and their pastor, Father Gene Jacques.
The workshop entails parishes taking an inventory and developing a strategic plan: reviewing and assessing the mission statement; developing goals and objectives and implementing them; then evaluating and adjusting as necessary.
Father Caron talked about the new evangelization how the Catholic Church “has identified a need to enter a new period of engagement with the world. We have to change the culture and find Jesus in the world and pass on the everlasting truth of the Gospel.”
No longer are Catholics just walking in the door for baptisms or weddings or even in times of crisis. For every one Catholic in the pew, six have left, Father Caron said. Borrowing a phrase from popular Catholic authors, he said Catholics today have to be hunters who spread the Good News to others.
“We have to go looking for people,” Father Caron said. “We have to go where the people are.”
And where are they? A large number of Catholics (two-thirds) are outside of the church, according to a Pew Research Study taken in May, and they are highly catechized, which means they have been baptized, confirmed and may have even gotten married in the church.
Why is this, Father Caron asks? He suggested that the Catholic Church doesn’t always teach how to have a relationship with Jesus.
“Only 5 percent of those at Mass are intentional Catholics (disciples),” he said. “We want to put the relationship with the Lord in the queue. How do we introduce Jesus to people? ... How do we engage them wherever they are and help them realize that the Gospel has impact and that the church is compelling?”
Technology is one new tool in the arsenal of evangelization, as is market ministry where Catholics hit the streets, the mall and farmers’ markets and spread the joy of Christ.
“How are you engaging technology?” he asked St. Joseph parishioners.
The way Father Caron is addressing evangelization is a direct response to input from Catholics who attended the recent sessions of the 9th General Synod of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. What Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Father Caron heard clearly was that parishes need help in attracting and maintaining active members.
His strategies align with the priorities identified by the synod: supporting active Catholics in the pews; finding Catholics who have left; finding non-believers (who are called the NONES and comprise more than Protestants and Catholics combined); and promoting the church’s missionary activity to those less fortunate through the corporal works of mercy (feeding the hungry, visiting the sick) and spiritual works of mercy (advising, comforting, consoling).
Father Caron compiled 12 tips for effective Catholic evangelization that will take people and parishes from maintaining what they experience in Christianity currently to being a mission-focused, prayerful and joyful Catholic:
►Be a witness of life;
►Include God in your vocabulary;
►Become a person of welcome;
►Develop relationships of care and trust built on a parish mission statement;
►Establish a common interest by being a “listening” church before being a “speaking” church;
►Arouse interest by creating opportunities to share faith experiences;
►Share faith stories;
►Respectfully present the core of the Gospel message to those who are receptive;
►Extend an invitation to become a follower of Christ;
►Facilitate the sacraments;
►Don’t condemn others for their beliefs but be joyful and compassionate;
►Know when to stop sharing your faith.
For parishes, like St. Joseph the Worker, the workshop can recharge them.
“Sometimes, everybody just needs to be challenged,” Father Jacques said. “Christianity is not a state of being but a state of action. You can’t just sit on it. You have to put it into action.”
The Office of Evangelization also can provide workshops and speakers, training for staff and parishioners, retreats and activities to help parishes spread Catholicism.
Even with all the new tools available, Father Caron stresses that it is not about programs but about changing attitudes and cultures. Prayer is not the icing on the cake, he said; it is the marinade in the meat.
“In our archdiocese, we are actually doing a lot of good things,” Father Caron said. “How do we move from being good to being great?