Catholic evangelism

Catholic evangelism June 10, 2013

Roman Catholics have been launching a major world-wide evangelism effort.  It includes “witnessing,” knocking on doors, and sharing what Jesus has done in my life. They are adopting techniques associated with evangelicals.  Do you think Catholics might have some advantages in the competition for the “unchurched”?  Their mystical tradition could appeal to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd.  They aren’t saddled so much as evangelicals with conservative politics, which is turning off so many non-Christians.  Catholic worship will come across to lots of people as more interesting than what most Protestants do.  To those attracted by megachurches, Catholicism is the most mega church of them all.  Despite their theological differences, should Protestants welcome Catholic evangelism efforts?From Michelle Boorstein in the Washington Post:

John Gallagher felt anxious as he set out on a rainy Sunday afternoon to knock on doors in Georgetown, inviting people to a barbecue and, hopefully, to Jesus Christ.

The 25-year-old had been in Catholic schools through college, has a priest brother and a deacon father, and is a member of a parish and a young Catholics professional group — his faith is his core, his identity. But talk to strangers about it?

That’s what the Vatican is asking Catholics to do — to take up evangelizing, to speak openly of one’s faith in order to spread it.

While such personal sharing has long been the province of, well, evangelical Protestants (among others, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), it means a paradigm shift for Catholics, whose spiritual lives have been largely centered inside the parish. But with Catholicism in the West facing major losses and what Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl — a Vatican point man on the new request — calls a “tsunami of secularism,” the church this year is pouring resources into a massive campaign dubbed “the new evangelization.”

Which is what brought Gallagher out in the rain this spring, a few weeks after the Rev. Adam Park at Epiphany Catholic Church laid out the challenge to his young congregation.

“You’re kind of like, ‘Ugh.’ It’s something you want to push off and let other people handle. Why be on the defensive if you can stay in your community where everyone nods their head and everyone goes home happy?” said Gallagher, a software developer who lives in Glover Park. “There’s an anxiety that accompanies putting yourself out there, especially with a topic such as religion. But once I realized: If God and my religion are important to me . . . I shouldn’t have any problem talking to other people about it.”

The campaign seeks to overhaul the concept of evangelization to something built for 2013, more subtle invitation then pushy dogma. In new church-created classes, lectures, conferences and iPhone apps, Catholics are asked to think of evangelization in terms of generous gestures, small comments and overcoming the fear of simply inviting someone to church.

The effort is global but heavily focused on Europe and the United States — places where Catholicism has lost the most ground. Ten percent of Americans are former Catholics, according to the Pew Research Center. From the Vatican down through bishops and then to priests, the church is telling Catholics — many for the first time — to find ways to evangelize, a word and concept with which many of them don’t identify.

“Catholics tended to be more private about faith” after they grew in stature and size in America. “There was this ‘we’ve kind of arrived’ comfort factor,’ ” said Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, a Catholic school in Front Royal. “We’ve been kind of resting on our laurels with these beautiful churches and traditions. But we are in a new situation now.”

Gallagher was among about 50 Epiphany congregants who hit the streets in April, hanging advertisement-like notes on door knobs. The wording was carefully considered — enticing but general: “Are you hungry for something?” It mentioned Epiphany — and an upcoming barbecue.

Then they followed up a few weeks later with a knock. “The reception was mixed. Some tolerated us, some were accepting,” Gallagher said.

Meanwhile he’s been making daily efforts. He’ll use a piece of religion news as a conversation starter, make a visible point of walking out of the room at the office when talk turns to a racy, drunken work party, or wear a suit from a morning prayer event to work so people might ask why he’s so dressed up.

Church leaders are deliberate when they talk about “the new evangelization,” a term first used by Pope John Paul II and made more specific by Pope Benedict XVI, who declared October 2012 through November 2013 a year for Catholics to re-educate themselves and plunge more deeply into church teachings and prac­tices — particularly evangelizing.

Pope Francis used his weekly public address a few weeks ago to explain the campaign, saying Catholicism “does not grow by means of proselytizing” but “by attraction, by witnessing, by preaching.”

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