May 17, 2018 // Parish

A mission-critical strategy for summer evangelization

Remember the first time you heard a priest or religious say, “Just because it’s summer vacation, don’t take time off from God”? You probably said to yourself, “Sure, I go to Mass.”

But Father Jonathan Norton of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne teamed up with diocesan seminarian Stephen Felicichia last year to take summer to a new level by creating “The Summer Evangelization Kit.”

The idea came out of a project at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where young men from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are formed for the priesthood. “They have created a sidewalk evangelization ministry,” explained Father Norton, who coordinated the project at the seminary before his ordination in 2015.

During each fall and spring break, seminarians travel to a college or university, where they engage students on walkways and in gathering spaces in conversations about faith and religion. In preparation for the trip, the young men train each other in how to tell their own story of faith and what God has done in each of their lives.

Father Dan Scheidt, pastor at St. Vincent, thought that Father Norton and Felicichia should pass the knowledge gained from that experience to the parishioners. “There are people who can’t talk about their faith because they’ve never been taught how to do it,” said Father Norton.

Both men have had military training, so they decided to create the three-page “kit” in military style, using military terminology. “Stephen was really the genius behind it,” Father Norton added.

“Evangelization can feel a little like a battle,” he continued. The kit gives people the tools to “not only survive and thrive in such an environment, but also to take the fight to the Enemy: disrupt his plans and bring aid, support and hope to all you encounter.”

The two set up the program in three tiers, just as the U.S. military uses a three-tiered system for occupation of contested territory.

The first tier is the Forward Operating Base, or FOB. “That’s the parish. That’s where resources are kept to aid in moving out into the world,” Father Norton said.

The second tier is the Combat Outpost, or COP. In the spiritual sense, he continued, this is the home and the family. The COP looks after itself, growing in faith and using the resources available to help and care for each other physically and spiritually.

Finally, the Patrol is one’s daily life which includes job, leisure and the everyday activities that take a person out into the world beyond their home. “This is where we often encounter opportunities to evangelize,” Father Norton said.

Although the Summer Evangelization kit was created in 2017 and appeared last June in the St. Vincent parish bulletin, Father Norton said it will make another appearance this year. In fact, parishioners embraced the idea so much that some actually assembled bags and boxes for keeping the more tangible pieces suggested for evangelization readily available. One parishioner, he said, made a bag for him as well.

Among the suggestions available from the FOB (one’s parish church) are websites such as WordonFire.org, FORMED.org and Catholic Education Resource Center (catholiceducation.org). Of course, the holy Bible made the list, as well as books available at local Catholic bookstores and compact discs such as Lighthouse Media, available in the St. Vincent de Paul Parish gathering space.

Father Norton and Felicichia also created suggestions for families to use at the COP (home). These include having dinner together with each person at the table sharing a grace of the day, studying the lives of the saints, decorating the home with religious artwork to express their family prayer and blessing the children each evening before bed.

Finally, for the Patrols, assemble care packages for people who are homeless. Small bags containing non-perishable food, snacks, and winter items such as gloves and hats, can be tucked in with a prayer card and information about how to contact area agencies that can provide aid.

Other suggestions are carrying a small pocket Bible or rosary to read and pray while waiting in a line at the store or a doctor’s office. These can also be shared with people who might be open to a conversation. Simple actions such as praying for other drivers on the road, saying grace in restaurants and making the sign of the cross when passing a Catholic church also made the list.

Father Norton and Felicichia added to the list what they called “neutral” events at the parish. These are activities that might engage a person in the community such as a music festival, the parish’s annual VincentFest, Tenebrae service during Holy Week, and Advent Lessons and Carols during December.

The suggestions in the kit are designed to help people feel more confident in talking about their faith. “Christianity is really an encounter,” Father Norton added. “We’ve provided tools for telling that story. Simple creative ways to engage others.”

“We hope that other parishes will use the materials that we assembled,” he said. Parishes can personalize and add to the what is presented so that the Summer Evangelization Kit will suit their community.

View the complete Summer Evangelization Kit at https://www.saintv.org/documents/pentecost-sunday. For more information, contact St. Vincent de Paul Parish at church@stv.org.

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