Disciples in Mission training seeks to renourish, re-energize Catholics



CHARLESTON — “Journeying around state, the numbers have been decent, but the excitement and energy have been overwhelming.” That is the reaction from Paul Schroeder, director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Charleston and co-chair of the Disciples in Mission Diocesan Leadership Team, following the last of seven parish information nights held across the state.

Various members of the 15-person Diocesan Leadership Team took part in presentations at three parishes in the Piedmont and Midlands last month, and again at four churches in the Pee Dee and Coastal deaneries just last week.

At Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island, about 35 parishioners, priests, and parish life facilitators heard about the four-year process for the upcoming evangelization program.

Diocesan Leadership Team member Brother Ed Bergeron, parish life facilitator at St. John Church in North Charleston, asked participants, “When you hear the word evangelization, what pops into your mind?” Answers varied and included the crusades, hard work, knocking on doors, praise songs, and St. Paul.

“We’re going to try and narrow the focus,” replied the Christian brother.

Schroeder then took over the program and said that we all are living in a culture of choice.

Elements creating that culture today are the “isms”: relativism, pluralism, materialism, individualism, and the loss of a sense of sin.

“Acceptable behavior now, 20 years ago you would have never heard of,” said Schroeder.

Expressions of personal spirituality are also on the rise, with 47 percent of the U.S. adult population being unchurched, and 60 percent of people in South Carolina having no religious affiliation according to a recent poll, a statistic which triggered gasps from some in the audience.

Schroeder said Catholics are not as “strong” today. Weekly Mass attendance in the 1970s was 50 percent; in 1998 it was 30 percent. “It’s impacting who we are as a Catholic Church,” he said.

In rating the level of commitment among U.S. Catholics, 23 percent are described as high, 60 percent are medium, while 17 percent are low. Schroeder defined that first group as the people the pastor can always call on to help with any project. He said the second group consists of those who come to church once or twice a month and who don’t volunteer for any outside efforts. Those in the low percent were described as the “Christmas and Easter” Catholics who are registered on the parish rolls but are basically inactive.

“Evangelization in the culture of choice is an encounter with the living Jesus leading to faith, conversion, communion and solidarity,” said Schroeder. “The heart of Catholic faith is salvation in Jesus Christ.”

The papal document “Evangelization in the Modern World,” promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1975, and “Go and Make Disciples,” the 1992 response from the U.S. bishops to that Vatican encyclical, were reviewed by Schroeder.

“The church exists in order to evangelize, and evangelization causes conversion,” he said.

The three goals of “Go and Make Disciples” are to live our faith fully, to invite others, and to transform society in Christ.

“In isolation,” Schroeder explained, “the three goals could be seen as Christianity as a club, mere marketing, and a worthy temporal project, but not the Kingdom of God.”

“Proclaiming the Gospel brings about the conversion of individuals and society,” he said. “Evangelization is a way of life, a way of being church that involves all the baptized in the priestly, prophetic, and royal mission of Jesus Christ.”

A videotaped message from Bishop Robert J. Baker and a video presentation from the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association describing Disciples in Mission were viewed.

Bill and Karen Dietz from Columbia, Disciples in Mission co-chairs, provided detail concerning the implementation schedule for the program. This year, 2002, is a preparation year. Years one through three will take place in 2003, 2004, and 2005, with the transition year marked in 2006.

Karen Dietz described the effort as a “clear, simple process that helps us through faith formation.”

At the parish level, the first step is to find a coordinator, someone who can make a commitment for three-and-a-half years, said Dietz. After that person is picked, parish coordinators will be trained at two summers sessions: July 13 in Columbia and July 20 in Charleston.

Afterward, a parish team will be formed, the size of which will depend on the size of the parish.

“Look at the second pew. People who want to be involved but need to be asked,” Dietz said.

She added that as the process moves along, the parish team would be in conversation with the diocesan team.

Bill Dietz then began to explain the three stages of Disciples in Mission. The first step, forming active disciples, encompasses a prayer campaign and small group experiences during Lent. Step two, planning for evangelization, focuses on a parish reflection day. Lastly, more intentional evangelizing is planned after Disciples in Mission ends. “Churches then act out what they have experienced,” he said. “Pastors and administrators can’t do it by themselves.”

Karen Dietz stressed that the final component, the transition year, is what sets Disciples in Mission apart from other evangelization processes. At that time, parish leaders and the diocesan team decide, “Where do we go from here,” she said. A diocesan Pentecost celebration is also held at the end of the transition year.

The director of Ethnic Ministries for the diocese, Kathleen Merritt, said Disciples in Mission meets the needs of various language groups in the state by providing material in Spanish and Vietnamese. The program also meets the needs of the disabled through resources for the sight and hearing impaired.

“It’s an excellent program while we address their needs,” she said. “More and more will start coming and getting involved.”

Asked about costs, Schroeder said that price-wise, Disciples in Mission is a very proven process. Initial expenses will be about $54 per parish team member for materials (a one-time cost), and other costs for bulletin inserts and prayer cards during each of the years of the process.

Of the 31 dioceses around the country taking part in Disciples in Mission, Schroeder said program coordinators have reported that the effort has been a help to busy priests and has kept a sustained level of parish participation.

Of the 18 dioceses that have completed or are nearing completion of Disciples in Mission, 14 have rated the program very good to excellent.

In closing, Brother Bergeron asked listeners, “What are some of the benefits to my parish if we were to participate in Disciples in Mission?” Growth, more volunteers, acceptance of different cultures, and a change in attitude of “ho hum” Catholics were some of the responses.

“The choice is not to do nothing,” he said. “We must do something in order to be evangelizers.”

Schroeder added, “Disciples in Mission is designed to make what’s already going on in your parish even better.”

For more information, call (843) 402-9115 Ext. 27 or visit the web site at www.sc-disciplesinmission.org.