With some help, even Catholics can evangelize

By Peter Finney Jr.

Dominican Father David Caron, director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, realizes the word “evangelization” – which in its Greek roots means to spread the good news – might be, well, Greek to most Catholics.

“There’s a lot of research out today on the fact that there are people in the pews who want to evangelize, but they don’t have the skills to do it,” Father Caron said. “Some people think the job of evangelization belongs to somebody else – the professionals, the ecclesial ministers, the priests. But to evangelize, you don’t need a master’s degree.”

Given the common roadblock many Catholics face in feeling free to talk about their faith, Father Caron secured funding from Our Sunday Visitor to sponsor a free workshop, “Every Believer an Evangelizer: Fostering a Culture of Witness,” Sept. 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Notre Dame Seminary’s Schulte Auditorium, 2901 S. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans.

Practical skills discussed

The workshop will be limited to the first 200 people who pre-register by Sept. 1, Father Caron said. The keynote presenters – David Baranowski, the director of stewardship education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and Rick Grinstead, a pastoral associate at St. Peter Parish in the Diocese of Orlando – will speak in practical terms about how every Catholic can become a better evangelizer.

“Evangelization sometimes scares people, but in reality, it can be as simple as being kind to people,” Father Caron said. “That sounds cheesy, but Pope Francis speaks about the theology of encounter and engagement.

“Most of us have been raised in the Catholic Church culture, and we’re told not to talk about two things – politics and religion. That has adversely affected Catholics in our effort to learn skills to share our faith with other people. This is an issue across the country. People will say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t know what to say’ or ‘I’m afraid to say this because how will I be viewed if I say the word God?’”

Move from prayer to action

Father Caron would like to move Catholics into action.

“There’s a lot of research on this, and what we’re finding is evangelization is being talked about a lot, but when it comes down to the people in the pews, there’s very little evangelization happening,” Father Caron said. “People don’t feel they know enough or how to do it. We’re trying to create a mini boot camp where people can learn some skills.”

The morning session will be devoted to broader concepts about evangelization, and in the afternoon, participants will go through some hands-on exercises to help them become better at sharing their faith, Father Caron said.

Sometimes people can begin sharing their faith in small ways during conversation with a stranger when the topic of sick relative or a tough personal experience comes up.

“It can come up around the topic of sickness,” Father Caron said. “You might hear someone say, ‘My dad’s in the hospital,’ and that might prompt you to say, ‘When my dad was in the hospital we said a prayer together.’ Sometimes people pray about evangelization but then stop at the praying and never move from praying to action. We need to pray more, but we also need to move into action.”

Father Caron’s ultimate goal would be to create a “school of witnessing” where people across the archdiocese could be trained in evangelization on an ongoing basis and then feel comfortable talking about their faith.

“It would give people a chance to do this and see what happens to them,” he said. “You can learn a lot of things, even if they don’t go well.”

To register for the workshop, call the Office of Evangelization at 267-9650.

For more information on evangelization, go to www.americamagazine.org and type “Why Don’t Catholics Share Their Faith?” in the search menu.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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