Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
September 3, 2001
Catholics learn to spread the faith
Evangelization program offers basic introduction
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Some Catholics in the Edmonton Archdiocese are beginning to warm up to Alpha, an ecumenical evangelization program that now has more than a million supporters worldwide.
Catholics from eight parishes were part of an audience of 300 people attending an Alpha training conference at Beulah Alliance Church Aug. 24-25. The conference included a seminar for Catholics interested in learning how to launch the program in their parishes.
Alpha is an introductory course on the basics of Christianity designed by the Church of England primarily for non-churchgoers, inactive members and new Christians. It is said the course is also a blessing for parishioners seeking renewal in their faith.
Father Len Hagel, pastor of St. Michael's Parish in Calgary, so far is the only parish in Alberta offering the program, described Alpha as an "awesome" evangelizing tool that focuses on Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
"It's everything I've prayed for in my priesthood for 38 years," he said.
"As a renewal program, it's the hope of the Church. I really believe that. When the pope talks about new evangelization, this fits perfectly. Catholics who take this course become real evangelists; they are proud of Jesus."
Hagel and Bob Choquette, director of Alpha at St. Michael's, led a seminar at the conference on Alpha for Catholics.
More than 70 people signed up for the course when St. Michael's, a parish of 1,500 families, began offering it last January. There are 160 people already registered for the September course.
"Right now we are not reaching out to the community, we are using it to evangelize our community because I feel Catholics are not evangelized," Hagel said.
After the course ends, participants are encouraged to continue meeting together in small Christian communities. Currently six small Christian communities are operating as a result of the first course.
Choquette described Alpha as "phenomenal," saying it "is perfect in getting people to evangelize people" and in "bringing people into a closer relationship with Jesus."
The lay-run course consists of 10 weekly meetings that include a supper, a simple talk and small group sharing. It's supported by comprehensive resources, including videotapes. There are 15 videos, covering such topics as Who is Jesus? Why Did Jesus Die? and How Can I Be Sure of My Faith?
The program was developed 20 years ago by Nicky Gumbel, a minister at Holy Trinity Brampton in London, England, and has been used by more than 14,000 churches of all denominations around the world.
Archbishop Adam Exner is a strong supporter of the program and last summer he introduced it to Catholics in the Vancouver Archdiocese. Since then, more than 20 Vancouver parishes have been offering the course.
"Alpha is the method - not the only one, but is a tried, proven and effective method - of reaching out to the fallen away and those who do not yet believe," Exner is quoted as saying in an Alpha promotional pamphlet.
Several parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese are currently looking at the program and at least one, St. Rose of Lima in Onoway, will begin offering it in January along with the town's Anglican parish.
Mu Lavin, one of eight members of the Onoway parish attending the conference, took the course through an Anglican church years ago.
"Taking this program enriched my understanding of my faith so much," she said. "It made my faith so much more living. It connected me with Jesus more."
Lucille Partington, past provincial president of the Catholic Women's League and a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Sexmith, attended the conference to gather more information about Alpha.
Now she is vowing to promote the program in her parish and throughout the Grouard McLennan Archdiocese.
"This is a short course in knowing Jesus and I know it will work because it connects people with people," she said.
Sister Lynn Rouleau was one of four members of Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer who came to the conference to find out more about Alpha.
She liked what she heard. "The pope has called us to evangelization and I can see (Alpha) as a tool for evangelization."
David Bouchard and his wife Cathy, both Catholic teachers in Red Deer, were also impressed.
"I think Alpha is an excellent way for us to reach out to people who have not been connected with the Church," said David.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.