SWEET HOME — As at most Catholic parishes, St. Helen Church here includes many adults who carry a quiet burden. Their children have stopped practicing Catholicism.
The folks at St. Helen have decided to do something about it.
Their parish is one of ? in western Oregon involved in a pilot program to become trained in the ways of the New Evangelization. In the movement, Catholics reinvigorate their own faith, then re-propose that life in Jesus to others as the fulfillment of all human yearning.
"All of those involved care so deeply about this because we all have children who were raised in the Catholic Faith and have left," says Janey Lidgren, coordinator of the training at St. Helen. "Reasons for leaving are as many as those who have left.
We all are looking for ways to talk with our families and friends who have left in ways that are gentle and welcoming yet strong in a faith that we are speaking the truth."
Guided by Father Fred Anthony, the parish administrator, a New Evangelization group formed in Sweet Home after last spring's Archdiocese of Portland pastoral conference on the topic.
"We came back and knew the time was right to form a group of parishioners to take on the challenges of the New Evangelization," Lidgren recalls.
The parish contacted Deacon Tom Gornick, director of evangelization for the archdiocese, and he came to start the formation and invite parishioners into the pilot program, which uses material from Chicago-based Word on Fire. It's a ministry founded by Father Robert Barron, a seminary rector and scholar who writes a syndicated column printed in the Sentinel. The training uses Father Barron's new video series on the New Evangelization.
"The training is going well," says Lidgren, explaining that at first the material raised more questions than answers. That seems healthy to her. More clarity should come as training progresses, she thinks, but she is also aware that the New Evangelization is one of those dynamic movements that continues to show fresh perspectives. She finds it thrilling.
After the six weeks of training, St. Helen parishioners will convene in a large session and will discuss what they feel God is calling them to do in the New Evangelization. That will be a basis of forming a vision and mission.
Brandon Vogt, content director at Word On Fire Catholic Ministries, wrote the study guide for the New Evangelization training.
"Pope John Paul II said the New Evangelization primarily focuses on those who did not encounter Jesus in a real way," says Vogt, a 28-year-old Catholic author and blogger and a father of four. "Our program aimed at equipping Catholics to reach those people. It keys on how to reach the religiously disenchanted."
The study guide offers practical ways to carry out the big ideas. For example, it suggests using social media to share good articles on faith or to relay pithy quotes from a saint.
The goal, says Vogt, is to say things in a way that will appeal to someone not already active. Pope Francis, for example, has struck an effective new tone for the secular world, focusing on mercy and a church with the poor.
Vogt became Catholic five years ago. A Presbyterian, he had been involved in campus ministry at Florida State University. He says it was the beauty of Catholicism that opened him to truth.
"The most powerful words Catholics can hear regarding evangelization are the words of Jesus Pope John Paul used: 'Be not afraid,'" Vogt says. "People are so afraid of so many things."