Total evangelization means parishes have to go ‘all in’

 Evangelization 1 Catherine Lanni, director of the Divine Mercy Center in Clinton Township, holds an image of the Divine Mercy during a Eucharistic procession at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Archdiocese of Detroit photos

Pastoral letter isn’t a program; it’s a culture shift, evangelization leaders say

Detroit — It’s been 76 weeks since representatives from more than 220 parishes gathered at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel for Synod 16, the transformative archdiocesan-wide meeting that changed the course of the Church in southeast Michigan.

The synod process ultimately led to Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, outlining the future of the Archdiocese of Detroit. The document calls for a complete shift in focus for the Church, going from “maintenance to mission” and dedicated to a process of “total evangelization.”

This model of “total evangelization,” according to the letter, is broken down into three components: encounter, grow and witness. In turn, each activity and ministry concerned with the spiritual development of an individual, a family, a parish and the Church at-large should correlate to these three components, said Nick Jorgensen, associate director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“The way we understand evangelization, the primary sense of evangelization, has to do specifically with the proclamation of the good news of the Gospel and inviting a response to that,” Jorgensen told The Michigan Catholic. “It’s about creating that opportunity to really hear it and be transformed by it, to respond to it and give your life to it.”

But isn’t that was parishes and Church-related ministries already do? Preach the Gospel through word and deed, inviting people into a relationship with Christ?

Well, yes and no, according to Michael King, northeast regional coordinator for evangelization.

Evangelization 4 Steve Dawson, director of St. Paul Street Evangelization, hands a rosary to a street performer in Detroit’s Greektown district during a “Nightfever” evangelization event at Old St. Mary’s Parish.

“The reason we have the model of ‘total evangelization’ being developed is because something isn’t happening at the parish level,” King said. “We still aren’t concentrating everything involved with the parish on evangelization. Evangelization is about everything we do to create that personal encounter with Jesus. This is one of the biggest paradigm shifts occurring in our Church.”

The archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization has been called to develop a model of evangelization for parishes to follow, to take people on a journey in which they have an authentic encounter with Jesus, an opportunity to learn more about his message, and the invitation to tell others about him.

“On the road to Emmaus, you have Jesus walking with the disciples, and what is he doing? He is accompanying them, building trust. That’s the ‘encounter,’” Jorgensen said. “Then he brings up Scripture, and he starts teaching them. That’s the ‘grow.’ And then their eyes open up, after they’ve had that encounter and learning experience, and they say, ‘It’s the Lord.’ And what do they do? They go tell people. They give witness.”

King and Jorgensen said parishes shouldn’t look at the model of “total evangelization” as a step-by-step guide of what to do and how to do it. The model isn’t intended to be a “top-down” approach, or, as the archbishop reiterated in Unleash the Gospel, another program.

 Evangelization 3 Seminarian Derik Peterman (now a transitional deacon) prays with parishioners at St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish in Detroit.

“We’ve been working with parishes to form this model, but the model is only as good as the people who work it,” King said. “For every parish, there is going to be a different process, depending on where they are on the journey, depending on where their families are. What works at one parish might not work at the parish down the street. But the basics are the same: that everything the parish does, or is already doing, is done in the dynamic of this ‘encounter, grow, witness’ model.”

Evangelization 2 Fr. John Riccardo baptizes a boy during the Easter Vigil at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth.

In a sense, it’s a process in which many parishes in the archdiocese are already engaging. Regardless of demographics or resources, Unleash the Gospel challenges everyone in the archdiocese to take what they are doing and reconfigure it to a missionary model, with an outward look on parish life.

“Not every parish has the same resources, and we understand that there are some parishes who are on board with this and some who aren’t sure,” Jorgensen said. “But what we want people to understand is this isn’t about resources; this is about taking what parishes are already doing, and putting Jesus at the center of it. Is everything that is happening at the parish leading people to an encounter? And sometimes, that means parish leaders need to ask themselves the question: ‘Have I had an encounter?’”

“Total evangelization” can seem like a daunting task for parishes, especially because there aren’t set boundaries or a “to-do” list accompanying it, but rather a cultural shift that’s required.

“A parish of total evangelization is capable at any given moment of facilitating an encounter with the Gospel for any person of any walk of life,” Jorgensen said. “That means not only receiving the Gospel message, but living it out. It’s about hearing that call and responding to the call.”