EDMONTON — Many parishes suffer from a fragmented approach to evangelization where one person or group is handed the responsibility to evangelize.
For Catherine Ecker, that’s not good enough. All disciples of Jesus are called to be people who evangelize and bring the Good News into every strata of humanity.
“We may need to shift away from saying the role of the evangelizer belongs to the priest or the religious to recognizing that evangelization is the vocation of all the baptized,” Ecker told an archdiocesan conference on The Evangelizing Parish.
“We may need to shift away from a doctrinal model, handing on knowledge, to a model that is evangelical, which is really rooted in the person of Jesus Christ,” said Ecker. “Who is Jesus? How did he live? How are we called to live?”
The conference took place March 18-19 at St. Theresa’s Church and was co-sponsored by the archdiocese’s offices of catechesis and new evangelization initiatives.
Ecker, a member of the Canadian team from the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, says Catholics are generally not comfortable in seeing themselves as evangelizers. “The term ‘evangelization’ is not a word we use with ease and is one that we’re really not that comfortable talking about.”
The unease with evangelization stems from the difficulty in trying to describe to others the mystery of God’s presence in one’s life, she said.
“When it comes to speaking about God and speaking about mystery, there are simply insufficient words to do that.”
Being a disciple of Christ means being constantly aware of what it means to proclaim God’s kingdom, Ecker said. “We have been saved from all that oppresses us.”
Salvation comes through the Paschal Mystery — the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, she said.
When the world is looking for evidence of believers of living what they preach, they see it reflected in the active social teachings of the Church, she said. “We live and evangelize by the way that we live the Gospel, the way we put flesh on the Beatitudes.”
Leading the event with Ecker was Father Roy Roberts of Ajax, Ont. Their goal was to help those in the initiation ministry better understand the rite of Christian initiation, and implement new ideas in their parishes. About half of the people at the conference minister in RCIA programs.
Roberts spoke on the Jewish perspective of the first Pentecost, which marks God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. He related the event to modern Christians, with Pentecost commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ apostles.
“What does the Pentecost mean for us today? It speaks to God’s confidence in us to be the hope builders of God’s kingdom,” said Roberts.
Even in a large group of people from various parishes, Roberts said it’s common to encounter the same situations, issues and barriers to effective evangelization. He hears similar stories, albeit all with their own unique twists.
“One of the problems is how do we define evangelization? What does it mean? If you have 200 people here, you’ll have 200 opinions on what it is.
“It’s a sense of being immersed into the Paschal Mystery. That’s what we preach, and that’s what we live.”
Roberts asked the participants to reflect on what that means concretely in their lives. He told those attending the conference that he hoped they would develop “a deeper sense of their own identity as the living Body of Christ in this world and be able to live lives congruent with that identity.”
One’s awareness of being part of the Body of Christ should be manifested in how one worships and how that worship is lived out in daily life, he said.