In these teaching editorials on evangelization, the authors will present information, inspiration, and witness about areas of Church ministry that provide opportunities and challenges to our mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This editorial reflects on the parish as the village fountain — the center of evangelizing activity.
The word parish evokes certain images, often geographical or of a particular priest, school, or group of people. At times the image even takes on a negative connotation. We speak of people being parochial in their outlook when they are petty or narrow. This is hardly the image that is consistent with the gracious welcome of Jesus Christ and the community of love reflected in the Trinity. In fact, the new evangelization calls for the parish community to be anything but parochial in that sense.
Our evangelizing opportunity is to expand our horizons and extend the welcome of Jesus Christ beyond the walls of the parish church. Actually, in canon law, the reach of the parish has always been envisioned as the entire territory served by the parish, not just Catholic households and institutions. So stores, nursing homes, public schools, businesses, groceries, neighborhoods, hospitals, and civic institutions are part of what we consider the parish.
This expansive vision is why I really like the image of the parish as the village fountain. This image, a favorite of Blessed John XXIII and repurposed by Blessed John Paul II, became the central focus of the “Synod Message to the World,” the final statement of last October’s Synod on the New Evangelization.
In its focus on the village fountain, the Synod Message referenced the beautiful encounter of Jesus and the Samarian woman at the well. The village fountain also evokes those gathering places — in southern Europe it was traditionally the fountain — where people come to quench their thirst and engage in conversation and community. Thus, it is often in places outside the parish property, such as malls or pools or ballparks, where we are challenged to share Christ’s good news.
For sure, we need to be creative and not preachy or imposing in announcing this message. I recall someone telling me how he ended up volunteering for a local non-profit. He recounted: “At Friday football games my friend spoke with such energy and joy about his involvement in that organization that I said to myself: ‘You have to find out what gives him such joy!’ And I did, and here I am volunteering.” This is the energy of the new evangelization: a genuine and compelling communication about what means the most to us.
In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis reminds us that faith is meant to be shared: “Christ’s word, once heard, by virtue of its inner power at work in the heart of the Christian, becomes a response, a spoken word, a profession of faith. As Saint Paul puts it: ‘one believes with the heart … and confesses with the lips’ (Rom 10:10). Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion. It comes from hearing and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed (§22).”
Ultimately, the parish will best evangelize through parishioners sharing their lively faith, just as the nonprofit did through a volunteer’s personal experience. Thus, as parishes explore ways to reach out, a key feature of this outreach will be the honest and joyful sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ alive in the hearts of parishioners and in the parish community.
An intervention that I introduced at the Synod involves one such outreach effort, the “Blessing of the Child in the Womb.” The “Blessing” is a gracious and life-affirming way to reach out to expectant parents and their families. A recently published booklet, Gift of Joy, explains the Blessing in a very easy-to-read format that can be given as a gift to expectant parents by individuals or parishes. Think about giving the book along with an invitation to an upcoming “Blessing” that will be held in your parish. Then make sure that those who are invited receive contact from the RCIA or Baptism preparation team. (To order Gift of Joy, go to www.osv.com.)
The possibilities are endless, and I am sure many of you have great examples of outreach from your parish. I invite you to share these most promising practices with our Director of Evangelization, Sal Della Bella (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that other parishes can benefit. And, please follow this special August series to learn more about how our Church evangelizes in other areas of ministry.
Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville