A welcoming attitude and a commitment to using the sacraments as opportunities to bring disaffected Catholics back to the faith of their childhood are important components of the new evangelization being promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, theology professor Dr. Ralph Martin told the Southern Regional Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal March 24.
Martin is the director of graduate theology programs in the new evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He has been named a consultor to the world Synod of Bishops, scheduled for Oct. 7-28 in Rome, which will focus on “the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith.”
Both Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict emphasized the need for the church to reconnect with those who have drifted away from the faith, Martin said. Directors of religious education and youth ministers around the country have told Martin the disconnect often begins around the time of confirmation.
“They tell me that it’s not uncommon that when kids are confirmed, that’s the last time you see them in church,” Martin said. “It’s like the last thing they have to check off on their list, and now they’re finished with their Catholic faith. A lot of times, their parents aren’t going to the church, either, but they want their kids confirmed. That really gives quite a negative witness to the kids.”
In the past, those seeking baptism for their children or those who have children preparing for first reconciliation, Communion or confirmation were presumed to know “what it means to live as a Catholic,” Martin said.
“We’re really waking up to the fact that we can’t presume that,” Martin said. “All kinds of sacramental preparation now need to have an evangelization component.”
Can’t presume faith
One of the key assumptions when parents bring their children to be baptized in the Catholic Church is that they “will raise this child as a child of God. A lot of times, the people who are bringing the baby to be baptized aren’t prepared to do that and don’t understand what that means or aren’t living it themselves.”
The October synod will attract hundreds of bishops from around the world. As a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, Martin has been asked to comment on pre-synodal documents.
Programs such as Catholics Come Home, ACTS Retreats, the Cursillo Movement and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCRNO) offer various approaches in evangelization.
The most important person in the parish in terms of evangelization may not even be the priest, he said.
“It’s the parish secretary,” Martin said. “If she says (in a flat voice), ‘Hello … No, Father’s busy…’ people might not call back. So just being welcoming and friendly and identifying with people’s needs is important. It’s kind of crazy to have people meeting the public who don’t like the public.”
Some parishes Martin has visited have extensive bulletin listings for groups that help people “with every kind of problem you can imagine. They’ve got welcoming committees for new neighbors, they’ve got people calling other people saying, ‘We miss you. Where are you?’”
Martin also said every pope since John XXIII stressed the need for a new Pentecost, because that needs to come before the new evangelization.
“There needs to be some kind of fire in people’s hearts, some kind of desire to share Christ, rather than just the command – ‘OK, now everybody evangelize!’” Martin said.