By JOEY REISTROFFER
TAYLORS – Whenever Catholics get together to share their faith, marvelous things can happen. Strangers become friends, parishes grow closer, and individuals see their spiritual lives soar
That is the goal of RENEW, which started as a faith-sharing outfit in Newark, N.J., about 20 years ago. Since then, its roots have spread across the globe, nourishing Catholics in 15 countries from Nigeria to the Philippines and in more than 120 dioceses across the United States.
Now Sister Pat Crowley, a Dominican from New Jersey, has brought RENEW to the Diocese of Charleston to inject its principles of faith in eight parishes across South Carolina.
They are: St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta, Corpus Christi in Lexington, St. Edward in Murphy Village, and St. John of the Cross in Batesburg.
Prince of Peace in Taylors and St. Mary in Greenville tried the faith-sharing event about 15 years ago and liked it so much that they have asked for a second go-around.RENEW, Crowley said, is not a program steeped in doctrine. It is not a theological Bible study. RENEW, Crowley said, is a three-year process split up into five-week periods during Lent and before Advent where small groups, large groups and entire parishes get together to pray, read Scripture and discuss how those biblical words fit into their daily lives.
“It takes on the look of the people it touches,” Crowley said. “They use Scripture, but it is not studying the Bible. It can give the parish wonderful ideas to study their faith.”
The first five-week session examines the Lord’s call to us, Crowley said, followed by a second one molding our response to His call. The third session looks at the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the last two sessions deal with discipleship and evangelization.
Crowley recently visited Prince of Peace to train a core group in the parish. Those people go out into the community to pick team leaders, both for small and large groups. RENEW then will train these leaders to guide discussion of the Scriptures. Once the training is completed, the first session will start right before Advent, and the process will carry into the next millennium. Crowley said that Pope John Paul II is urging Catholics around the world to be disciples of the faith and to be evangelists into the next millennium. She feels RENEW accomplishes that call.
She also believes the program has guided many people toward a deeper understanding of their faith and toward a larger commitment to their parish.”People should focus on how the Scripture moves them,” Crowley said.
Denise Thompson of Prince of Peace has been refreshed. “I never used to get involved,” she said. “I used to be a bump on a log. But ever since I started getting involved, I can feel myself growing in my faith.”
The power of RENEW is that it brings people together and shows them what they can do when inspired by faith.
Some people, however, are wary. One person called it a New Age feel-good sort of program that emphasizes the self and not God or the sacrifices of Jesus Christ. Others say any program not based on solid doctrine of the Church and not following guidelines put forth by the Magesterium of the Church can lead people down the wrong path and into the brambles of generic Christianity.
That is what the Committee on Doctrine of the National Council of Catholic Bishops said during a review of RENEW in 1986. The committee said the agenda must focus on the Eucharist as the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus rather than just a communal meal to be shared by His followers.
And James Likoudis, in an early critique by Catholics United for the Faith, said the program has “modernized Jesus.”
“He has been stripped of his divinity and reduced to the proportions of a mere man,” Likoudis said.
Crowley said those severe reviews have been scrutinized, taken to heart, and changes have been made. Those changes, she said, have been approved by Bishop Theodore McCarrick in New Jersey, the home base of RENEW.
The Diocese of Charleston, Crowley said, is getting the new improved version.Curtis Martin, president of Catholics United for the Faith, hopes so. If it has, he applauds the program for its drive to reach out to Catholic lives and help them grow.
“Their desire is fantastic,” Martin said.
He has not yet seen the changes, but hopes it addresses his concern for the necessity of installing doctrine in its teachings.
Because without somebody in the group guiding discussion based on the truth of the Catholic Church, a faulty message can turn impressionable Catholics, break down their faith and lead the flock astray.
If they have responded to the bishops’ concerns, they should be praised for that, Martin said of the program.
Crowley has heeded those concerns. She said discussions on faith are not free-wheeling, rather they are guided.
The RENEW booklets contain Scripture, followed by a strict set of questions that lead group discussion. “It’s not a catechisis but it gives us an opportunity to plan catechisis,” Crowley said.
The beauty of it is that anybody can join, Crowley said. People don’t need to know the Bible by heart. They don’t need a theology degree. They can show up just as they are and learn to share their faith, Crowley related. “It helps to develop a prayer life.”
“It helped me come back …” said one man, from St. Mary’s who went through the three-year program the first time it came to the parish.
“I think I this is exactly what we need,” said Sue Zedek of Prince of Peace. “We did RENEW about 15 years ago, and I think it’s time we started it again.”It can give the parish a jolt of energy.
Father Anthony Droze, pastor at St. Mary, sees a positive mindset coming from the course. “This is an enrichment of one’s faith,” he said.
He thinks the program sets the groundwork for a stronger belief, and therefore, a stronger desire to evangelize. And he is confident that the program’s sharing of faith will bring his large flock closer together because its foundation stresses fellowship.Crowley has seen this New Jersey program of faith-sharing and fellowship spread across the nation and the world, and she is amazed by how many lives it has touched.
“As I travel across the country, I see there is far more enthusiasm for the faith than there is apathy,” she said.
And that is quite a testimony.