I had the privilege of visiting our Salesian presence in Chicago at the end of September. Six SDBs serve at St. John Bosco Parish and St. James Parish. It is a busy Salesian presence; I counted about 80 regular groups and activities between the two parishes. The Archdiocese of Chicago has linked these two parishes as part of their Renew My Church program (Alpha). As the Archdiocese makes its final decisions about structural changes in parishes, greater emphasis is now being put on spiritual renewal and fostering a culture of evangelization. The Salesian parishes participate in this renewal in a variety of ways, including the preparation teams to offer Alpha. Over the course of 11 sessions, Alpha (re)introduces people to the love of God through Jesus Christ and his Church through meals, testimonies, faith sharing, and prayer. Since the Salesian presence in Chicago is multilingual, teams of parishioners are being prepared to offer Alpha in English, Spanish, and Polish. There is the hope of offering Alpha also to young adults. Congratulations to the SDBs, Cooperators, members of ADMA, and hundreds of volunteers in Chicago who are involved in the Salesian mission of education and evangelization and work with the Archdiocese to announce the Good News through programs like Alpha.
As effective as Alpha is, it is still just a program. There are other similar effective programs for evangelization—ChristLife, resources from Paulist Evangelization Ministries, Arise/Levántate from Renew International, Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, etc. All of these programs are creative tools for us to use as we heed the Great Commission of Jesus, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19). We recall the powerful words of Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 14: "Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." For us Salesians, as members of the Church, we, too, "exist in order to evangelize;" we participate in the one mission of the Church by living the Salesian charism with joy and generosity. We feel the urgency of the mission, as we confront the way the pandemic has affected in-person celebration of the sacraments, especially Sunday Mass, and as we meet so many young people who do not know Jesus.
The effectiveness of programs like Alpha and various activities in our works depends largely on well-formed teams of authentic disciples of Jesus. So many of our teachers, catechists, camp counselors, liturgical ministers, coaches, and staff see themselves not so much doing a job, but serving in a ministry. To help our colleagues and confreres grow as missionary disciples, we can offer them ongoing formation. From the Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Catholic Education of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), I recommend "Encounters of Hope: The Process of Evangelization in our Daily Lives." This is a four-session series of videos, each about one hour, is designed to encourage the faithful to live as missionaries. Each session has questions for discussion and links to more resources. This series works best for small groups, but it could be enriching for individuals. With only four sessions, it could serve as a renewal program during Advent or Lent. You can find this series and several others via this link.
Next week, I will accompany 44 people on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Please send me any particular prayer intentions. I promise to carry them with me to the holy sites we visit.
Fr. Tim Zak