Speaker: Parishes need to evangelize

A primary purpose for parishes is forming disciples who joyfully live out the mission of Jesus Christ.

So said Father James Mallon to about 100 priests and 450 lay parish leaders and members of archdiocesan ministries who gathered with Archbishop George J. Lucas Oct. 2 to learn more about and discuss ways priests and laity can live out the church’s mission of evangelization in their parishes.

Father Mallon, author of the book, "Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission," led the Oct. 2-3 event at St. Mary Church in Norfolk.

The church faces big challenges, Father Mallon said, citing as one indicator a marked decline in Mass attendance. Over the past 11 years, his own diocese, the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, has seen a 40 percent drop, and similar declines have been experienced in the United States, he said.

"This is very sobering," Father Mallon said. The solution to falling Mass attendance and people leaving the church, he said, is a renewed commitment to evangelization.

"There is a primacy of evangelization, in helping people learn that God is a good Father who loves them," Father Mallon said. Parishes need to help people experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and train them to become mature in their faith so they can "go out" and share it with others, he said.

The conference expanded upon the archdiocese’s annual fall clergy conference by encouraging pastors to invite several lay parish leaders for the first day. The second day was only for the priests, and focused on developing and empowering lay leaders.

During his talks the first day, Father Mallon presented key concepts from his book and how parishes can use them to spread Jesus’ message and renew the church.

He discussed reasons Catholics are leaving the church and the need for the church to return to its mission to make disciples as a way to reverse the trend – and to do it by "raising up the laity."

"In recent years, the popes have called us to a new evangelization, but for the most part, it’s gone unheeded," Father Mallon said.

"So the church’s problems are rooted in an identity crisis," he said, losing sight of its fundamental mission to "go and make disciples."

Between presentations, pastors and their lay leaders met to discuss what they learned. After the gathering, Vicki Smith, chair of the Evangelization Committee at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, said Father Mallon’s presentation "gave a new perspective and a broader hope, while being realistic about the challenges."

Her committee has read Father Mallon’s book and has been working to help parishioners reach out to those who are already evangelized and to those who are not, she said.

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