By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
Dominican Father David Caron, vicar of evangelization for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, likes to paint word images to illustrate why it’s necessary for Catholics to live out their baptismal call and spread the Gospel in their homes and workplaces.
Imagine, Father Caron said, if Catholics left Mass every Sunday and saw a sign above the exit door that read: “You are now entering your mission territory.”
“The whole idea of becoming disciples is to encourage others to be disciples,” Father Caron said.
With Mass attendance in the U.S. slipping and with the church deeply challenged by the revelations of sexual abuse by clergy, Father Caron said it’s never been more important for Catholics who love their faith to be energized by it and tell others, in a non-threatening way, about how God has worked in their lives.
That’s the purpose of five Wednesday night sessions – Oct. 16, 23, 30 and Nov. 6 and 13 – called “From ‘Come and See’ to ‘Go and Make’: A Discipleship Series.” Each session, which will include prayer, silence, dialogue, feedback and an opportunity for eucharistic adoration, will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Siena Room of St. Dominic Parish, 775 Harrison Ave., New Orleans.
The series is an extension of what Father Caron offered last year for parish representatives who had been identified by their parishes as evangelization coordinators. Those efforts, which were inspired by 9th General Synod of the archdiocese, have led to some interesting ideas to reach people who may not have darkened the doors of a church in a long time.
One idea that bubbled to the surface was a “booth” ministry in which parishes set up shop at community, civic, food and music festivals and farmer’s markets to offer information about their churches and talk with people who pass by.
“We’ve got to get out of the church,” Father Caron said.
Blessed Seelos Parish on Dauphine Street in New Orleans sets up a tent one Saturday a month to greet neighbors as they pass by the church. Since many are walking their dogs, Blessed Seelos parishioners decided to pass out “doggie” biscuits as treats.
“Hey, if you’re good to my dog, you might be good to me,” Father Caron said, smiling.
Our Lady of the Rosary in New Orleans printed fans for Jazz Fest that had church information, including its website and Mass schedule and pictures, on either side.
“There were all these people watching Rod Stewart and waving Holy Rosary fans,” Father Caron said.
When two-thirds of Catholics don’t go to Mass each week, Father Caron said, he is not surprised by a recent Pew Research Center survey indicating that half of U.S. Catholics don’t know the Catholic Church teaches the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
“Catholicism by heredity doesn’t work,” Father Caron said. “Pope John Paul II said our first posture should be to go out. Pope Francis says we know enough now to get started. We don’t have to wait to share our story.”
Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Mandeville is working on brief video testimonies in which individual parishioners share their faith stories, which can be shown before Mass. St. Catherine of Siena shares written parishioner testimonies on its website (www.scschurch.com).
Creative pastors have found that “carpool evangelization” – meeting the parents and grandparents of students who are lining up to pick up their children from school every day – is a great way to engage people in new ways.
“Grandparents are concerned about their grandkids,” Father Caron said. “The kids are in Catholic school and the grandparents are paying the tuition, but the parents aren’t going to church anymore. People sometimes talk about ‘weak’ catechesis. The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has great catechesis, but it’s not enforced at home, and some parents are even hostile to it.”
One way of reaching young parents who may not be attending church, Father Caron said, is to get them involved in service projects and then thinking about the larger community purpose.
“Millennials are very generous with their time, but there has to be some reflection on why we are doing what we are doing,” Father Caron said. “It can’t be just another service project.”
For more information on the evangelization series, call 267-9650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The sessions are free but registration is requested.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.