A pastor in our diocese gave his parishioners a homework assignment that seemed like a no-brainer. Invite someone to next weekend’s Mass. The following week he asked for a show of hands of parishioners who had invited someone to Mass. Some people raised their hands, but not the majority. The pastor repeated the assignment for a number of weeks, with lackluster results, perhaps because of the ongoing pandemic. However, we still have plenty of opportunities to be invitational, building relationships that will inspire people to join us at Mass when they feel safe to do so.
The invitation — whether to attend Mass or an in-person or virtual prayer group session, or to be of help to someone — is an example of evangelization, a major emphasis of Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s episcopate in the Diocese of Davenport. Three years ago, our diocese convened a Vision 20/20 convocation, which sparked a fervor for evangelization. However, the ongoing pandemic derailed some of those efforts and perhaps some of the enthusiasm to connect with people outside of our insular bubbles.
Earlier this year, Bishop Zinkula appointed a committee to build on the good work of Vision 20/20 with the Rediscovering Sunday initiative. It aims to help Catholics experience the joys of Sunday with the Lord more fully. Celebrating our faith together during the liturgy is foundational to evangelization and the nexus to “bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself. At its essence are the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ and the response of a person in faith, which are both works of the Spirit of God” (usccb.org/committees/evangelization-catechesis/
The Rediscovering Sunday committee has released the results of a diocesan-wide survey intended to help answer the question, “How do we keep holy the Lord’s day?” You can read the diocesan summary at https://www.davenportdiocese.org/sunday. More than 5,000 respondents (5.83%) of Catholics in our diocese participated. Each parish received survey results specific to that parish. Ask your parish to share those results with parishioners to encourage a broader effort to help those who are absent to rediscover Sunday. Respondents’ overall assessment provides some insights on how to move forward with evangelizing — in and outside of our parishes.
More of us need a clearer understanding of the term “evangelization.” Just 44% of respondents said they have a very clear understanding of evangelization. Another 28% said they have a moderate understanding and want to know more while 6% said they didn’t really understand the term but would like to know more. Another 6% didn’t think evangelization was relevant to their lives. The remaining 16% didn’t respond to the question.
Another insight: just 48.1% of respondents feel comfortable sharing their faith with their family and 47% feel comfortable sharing their faith with people outside of their family. Respondents who are comfortable sharing their faith with family and people outside of their family totaled 17.5%. Close to 11% do not feel comfortable sharing their faith. Another 12.1% did not respond. Their responses raise another important question: how do we help one another to move outside our comfort zone to share our faith with our families and non-family members?
Respondents provided plenty of ideas on how parishes can support parishioners in keeping the Lord’s Day — more than 300 pages of open-ended comments. Some ideas include providing faith-based activities for parishioners of all ages on Sunday, such as prayer, adoration, rosary, Bible studies and discussions of the readings for Sunday Mass. Some would appreciate social action/outreach opportunities on Sundays after Mass or later in the day.
Other respondents suggested good homilies and music to uplift parishioners and motivate them to attend Mass on Sundays. Others suggest promoting and better communicating positive messages about attending Mass and keeping the Lord’s Day. Still others advised sending parishioners forth from Mass with spiritual food, such as prayers, readings and guides to follow.
The top wish/hope/dream for the future of their parishes is programming for younger adult Catholics and families to help them remain in the faith and to pursue their faith passionately. The next most voiced wish/hope/dream — a welcoming parish (more than acting on the surface) that is inclusive for current and new members.
Not surprisingly, only a small percentage of younger adult Catholics responded to the survey — with 10.6% respondents ages 35-44, 4% ages 25-34, 0.9% ages 18-24 and 0.4% under age 18. “That fact is important for all of us to face squarely. Attracting Millennials and Generation Z will require us all to be intentional,” says Patrick Schmadeke, the diocese’s first director of evangelization.
We in the pews can find beauty and fulfillment in our role as evangelizers. We carry out that role through prayer, education, participation in the liturgy and personal invitation. Our assignment for the fourth Sunday of Advent: invite someone to prayer, Bible study or Mass and extend an offer of help to someone in need.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor