20 years into the New Evangelization
March 1, 2010
Legatus members have embraced the call to evangelize the culture . . .
by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi
Pope John Paul II knew the power of culture, theater and the visual. From his days an actor, he knew these could be leveraged as powerful tools for spreading the Gospel.
When he called for a New Evangelization 20 years ago in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, the summons was meant to spark new and creative ways to present the Gospel by engaging the culture.
Answering the cal
Since then, America has witnessed a wide-ranging response to this call through Catholic radio, television, websites, advertisements, seminary programs and university outreach. These efforts use modern technology to make the 2,000-year-old Gospel message come alive.
Tom Peterson, a member of Legatus’ Atlanta Chapter, created one such powerful effort: Catholics Come Home. The company uses a website and inspiring television commercials to reach out to inactive Catholics.
“The spark for me was when I read Christifideles Laici, which showed that the faithful are called to be priest, prophet and king,” said Peterson. “We’re not supposed to sit back and let priests do everything. We, the lay people, have a responsibility.”
His website has been visited by 1 million people in 80 countries. The ministry reaches out to Catholics who have left the Church, and its professionally produced videos explain the Church’s historical relevance. The ads recently aired in the dioceses of Chicago, Colorado Springs, Omaha, Lincoln and Providence. They will soon air in Seattle and Green Bay.
Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary also took the call for a New Evangelization seriously. In fact, the seminary is the only one in the country that offers a licentiate in the New Evangelization.
“The program is part theological, part spiritual and part practical,” said Ralph Martin, director of the program. “We give all seminarians practical opportunities to be involved in hands-on evangelization.”
Participants give parish-based Bible studies and take part in seven-week “Alpha” programs where they invite non-Catholics to participate in discussion groups. The seminary also has classes on how to use different types of media, as well as how to give effective homilies.
Plugged into the culture
The Word on Fire ministry, led by Fr. Robert Barron, has the same motivation as the Sacred Heart program.
“Ten years ago, I was complaining to a priest friend of mine about how Catholics were not using the media effectively,” said Fr. Barron. “I mentioned how Archbishop Sheen was a pioneer in using the media, and then how we Catholics had just dropped the ball. My friend looked at me and said, ‘So what are you doing about it?’”
Around the same time, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George tapped Fr. Barron — then a theology professor at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill. — to spearhead the archdiocese’s evangelization efforts.
Father Barron created Word on Fire’s website where visitors can read his columns, download his sermons and view his YouTube videos. He has created 120 short videos where he comments on various aspects of the culture. His commentary on the movie Religulous has been watched by 87,000 people, most of whom are non- Catholics.
“I wanted to be able to plug into the wider culture,” he said. “I try to see points in the culture that are inimical to the Gospel and what’s good about the culture. Most cultures have some ‘seeds of the Word,’ as Church Fathers would describe them. These just need to be watered.”
Three years ago, Fr. Barron began to work on a video series that explores different themes of Catholicism through a journey around the world by visiting the great Catholic sites. The series, called The Catholicism Project, is produced by a professional staff and should be finished by the end of 2010.
“I wanted to use beauty to bring out the big themes of the faith, while also showing that Catholicism is very smart,” he said.
Father Barron notes that Catholicism is the visual religion. No other religion has produced the art, the churches, the music that Catholics have. Although Protestants are ahead of Catholics in the use of the media, Catholics are getting into the game.
Reaching young Catholics
Another Legatus member, Curtis Martin of the Denver Chapter, has both feet in the game. He founded the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) 12 years ago with the aim of bringing the gospel to college students. FOCUS sends missionaries to live on campuses and conduct large group outreach, Bible studies and one-on-one mentoring.
FOCUS has grown to a full-time staff of 270 with 2,000 volunteer missionaries on 45 campuses. To date, 236 men and women involved in FOCUS have entered the religious life.
“There is not a single area in life — from conception to natural death — that is not in need of an enormous investment by the Church,” Martin said. “You can reach a second grader, but they won’t go into seminary for 15 years. But when you reach a university student, you can make an impact for the rest of their lives.”
FOCUS witnesses conversions at every campus they work on. “The beauty, truth and goodness of the Catholic Church proclaims itself when it’s presented in charity,” Martin said.
Other manifestations of the New Evangelization include the spread of Catholic radio, television, programs like Theology on Tap, and the Augustine Institute in Denver which offers a Masters in Evangelization. Although Legatus was founded before Redemptoris Missio, it too is a manifestation of the New Evangelization, members said.
“Legatus has had a powerful impact through the unity of life it fosters and through friendship,” said Curtis Martin. “It gives the opportunity to live tremendous integrity.”
Peterson concurs. “Legatus empowers us through catechesis, its magazine, our colleagues and an army of speakers,” he said.
The jury is still out on whether Catholics are better catechized today than in the past, but it’s clear that there is a group of solid young Catholics who were formed during John Paul’s pontificate.
“There is still more bad news than good news,” said Martin, “but the New Evangelization is underway if we look in the right places. The John Paul II generation has a commitment to real, objective truth. They are open to traditional moral teaching, and sociologists can’t explain them.”
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.