Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 10, 2004
Evangelize those fringe Catholics
Meet their needs and those lapsed Catholics will return
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Canadian religion sociologist Reginald Bibby continues to assert that Canada's churches are on the verge of rebirth and that Catholics should seize the moment.
"To the extent that you, as Catholics, are serious about evangelization, you have a mandate to do what no other group in the country can do," he said. "And that is to get serious about targeting Roman Catholics who are on the fringes of the Church."
Bibby, the author of several books on religion trends in Canada including, Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada, was speaking to 500 delegates attending a national conference April 29-May 2, sponsored by the adult portfolio of the National Office of Religious Education (NORE).
It's the shepherd's job
"It's never been the role of the sheep to find the shepherd," Bibby observed. "And given the reluctance of Catholics to turn elsewhere, there's good reason to believe that if the Catholic Church fails to reach inactive Catholics, they're not really going to be reached by anyone."
The key to evangelizing fringe Catholics lies in doing what Jesus did, he said - "ministering to their needs." Plainly put, "You need to make contact with those Catholics, you need to engage them in conversations, you need to explore their interests and needs."
People are open to churches that can bring significance to their lives, said Bibby, whose newest book, Restless Churches: How Canada's Churches can Participate in the Emerging Renaissance, is to be released by Novalis in August.
"Contrary to widespread propaganda, research shows that Canada is far from a godless country," Bibby said. "On the contrary. God has been at work preparing people, awaking them, relating to them.
"What's needed now is for parishes and individuals to respond - in your case to respond by starting with the some 13 million people in Canada who see themselves as Catholic.
The findings of recent polls are consistent with the belief that "there is something in the way of new life showing up in churches," said Bibby, and the province of Quebec is no exception.
"About two out of three Catholics in Quebec maintain that they've experienced God's presence, Bibby said. "I would suggest that such findings indicate that the Roman Catholic Church is facing both a remarkable opportunity and a mighty heavy responsibility for them."
Bibby acknowledged that many people - among them Tom Harpur, the author of the controversial new book, A Pagan Christ - disagree with his predictions of a resurgence in church life.
Harpur took Bibby to task in a column in the Toronto Star last July saying the current decline in church attendance in Canada "is a drop in the bucket compared to what's coming," and that the Catholic Church will not be excepted.
Added Harpur, "It is the role of false prophecy to cry otherwise just now."
Bibby mused that when he brought bad news for the churches in the past, he was dubbed "Bad news Bibby."
But when he brings good news, "he (Harpur) calls it false prophecy," he said.
"I'm just a sociologist who tries to call things the way I see them, and I think there are some important facts out there that speak for themselves.
"The reason, I believe that God is moving in the churches is tied to some very sound data."