Shepherd of the Valley Parish photos
Fr. Mike Walker opens door at dedication of new Central Point church. He wants to build up the People of God, too.  
Shepherd of the Valley Parish photos
Fr. Mike Walker opens door at dedication of new Central Point church. He wants to build up the People of God, too.

Eight parishes in western Oregon have begun a pilot project, testing a process that prepares Catholics to take part in the New Evangelization.

"Catholicism: The New Evangelization" is a six-week small-group catechesis that may be extended to all parishioners in the Archdiocese of Portland or may be used to form parish leaders.  

The New Evangelization calls on Catholics to deepen their faith, believe in the Gospel message and then proclaim the Good News of Jesus — both what he taught and who he is. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on re-proposing the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.  

But before inviting back a lot of inactive Catholics, the people in parishes need to make sure they are ready to extend a sufficient welcome, says Deacon Tom Gornick, director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Portland. Other U.S. dioceses have begun "Welcome Home" programs, only to see the returnees leave again quickly because parishes seemed to have the same old problems, with insularity and stodginess as chief complaints.

"You don't invite guests until you buy the food and clean the house," Gornick says. "We don't want people to return to a church that is not ready. We want parishes to be proclaiming and serving and welcoming people."

The small groups may be a good starter for parish pastoral plans for returning Catholics, Gornick explains.

"Catholicism: The New Evangelization" is a curriculum that includes a video documentary made by Father Robert Barron, a Chicago priest and author who created a stir with his earlier 10-part series on worldwide Catholicism. Father Barron calls the shorter piece and its study guide a pragmatic follow-up to the wide-ranging report.

"The first series taught what we believe, the doctrine of the church," the priest says in a video interview on his website. "In this series, we want to say, 'Now, how do you share it?'" Father Barron says every Catholic has an obligation to extend faith, a vocation that goes back to the Second Vatican Council, which called on the laity to "Christify the world."

Here is an excerpt from the study guide: "For many Catholics, 'evangelization' is a strange and terrifying word. It conjures up someone standing in the doorway asking if you’ve been 'saved,' or a slick television preacher putting on an elaborate show. But the Catholic view of evangelization is quite different. It simply means spreading the Good News."

Gornick says the archdiocese is testing the process to see if it is apt for everyone, or better for training leaders. As the pilot project moves forward, the Oregon parishes will share their experiences with the publishers of the study guide.

Most of the parishes taking part are in the Southern Oregon Vicariate, where pastors have shown a keen interest in the New Evangelization movement.

"I am hoping that the New Evangelization program will help inspire our participants in their faith with a new ardor and train-them-up to share the Good News of Christ to all they meet," says Father Bill Holtzinger, vicar in Southern Oregon and pastor of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass. "I dream that a revival of Catholic faith will fall upon our parish to animate us to become an even more welcoming community, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim Christ's loving mission."

The priest wants parishioners to stay on their spiritual toes, continually open to new methods of sharing what the world is seeking — "the love that the Gospel proclaims."  

Joyce Marks, who is leading the project at Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Central Point, says parishioners there are already moving on evangelization. Father Mike Walker, the pastor, did extensive research and wrote a manual on evangelization he has used to train staff and parish leaders.

"This is a good start to what our church has been working on for the past several years," Marks says. "We believe like the pope believes that it's everybody's responsibility to live out their baptismal calling."

Shepherd of the Valley constructed a new church building last year, but also wants to build up the Church, the People of God, Marks says.

"We want a new Church that is truly looking outward," she says. "Our job is to make sure everybody is equipped."

Parishes taking part are St. Francis in Banks, Shepherd of the Valley in Central Point, St. Anne in Grants Pass, Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Oswego, Sacred Heart in Medford, St. Pius X in Portland, St. Joseph in Salem and St. Helen in Sweet Home. The small group meetings are underway and will be done by late February.