Rock Hill church committing to evangelization efforts

ROCK HILL — When you’re a child in religious education, not all the teachings of the Catholic Church stick.

Cynthia Gaither felt that way, so when the issue of deepening and sharing the Catholic faith was being discussed at a recent gathering at St. Mary Church she suggested that some of the Sunday adult education sessions be centered on one of the sacraments.

“You just need a reminder, a renewal I guess, of your faith to understand exactly what you believe in,” said Gaither.

She and about 65 other souls from the small parish had attended a recent parish reflection day — a time to consider what their role can be in “Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States.”

The plan was approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992, and it asked followers to acknowledge and share their experience of faith as Catholics.

St. Mary’s is making the effort a cornerstone of its three-year Disciples in Mission commitment. Some Catholics cringe at the thought of evangelization, conjuring up images of televangelists, parishioner Steve Rast told the group in opening the reflection day. He pointed out, though, that Catholics were the pioneers in making disciples of nations.

As other denominations aggressively court lapsed and unchurched Christians and as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse and home to more people from predominantly Catholic nations, the church must do more to convert individuals and society.

“It’s really about making our faith alive, making our faith real,” Rast said.

During the gathering participants divided into three groups, each taking on one of three goals as a foundation for developing an evangelization plan.

The goals are: To bring about in all Catholics such an enthusiasm for their faith that, in living their faith in Jesus, they freely share it with others.

To invite all people in the United States, whatever their social or cultural background, to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, so they may come to join us in the fullness of the Catholic faith.

To foster Gospel values in our society, promoting the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family, and the common good of our society, so that our nation may continue to be transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ.

The group assigned Goal 1 had a lively discussion of having a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic.

Catholics in the South, and especially those in this racially mixed parish, know what it’s like to be considered different and as the object of ignorance.

Because some Protestants may question the need for confession or think Catholics worship idols, members of the group realized that better grounding in the church makes them effective spokespeople for the faith. Gaither suggested setting aside time to discuss the sacraments. Others talked about prayer partners or taking part in the small prayer groups created through Disciples in Mission during Lent.

In the end, the three groups came back with hopes to foster the importance of family, to deepen individual prayer life, to design a program of outreach for non-active Catholics, and to build on its cultural diversity.

Brother David Boone, parish life facilitator, said he liked the parishioners’ goals because they are achievable and can be implemented without staff. The members themselves can do wonders, he said.

They already had by bringing about this day.

The Disciples in Mission leadership team will come up with a profile of strengths and weaknesses and present them to the parish council. From there, they may create committees to achieve the goal objectives.

“I have faith in the program, especially with the turnout we had today,” said Karen Howze, a member of the Disciples leadership team. “… I feel good about where we are now. The parish is very receptive to the program and every eager to get involved.”