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'Amazing God' to promote evangelization ideas

Your cell phone buzzes or chirps. It's a text - not from your friend or family member, but from your priest.

"God loves you," it reads. "Have a great day."

This is one of many ideas that may be suggested to parishes this fall during "Amazing God," the Albany Diocese's three-year plan of spiritual renewal and evangelization.

The first year, themed "God is Love," will launch in November and concentrate on both remembering God's goodness throughout history and strengthening personal relationships with God.

As part of that endeavor, parishes will be asked to showcase testimony from lifelong Catholics or those who returned to the Church after falling away.

"Jesus taught by telling stories," said Peter Avvento, the newly-appointed Amazing God coordinator. "Tell your story. How did you come back to the faith?"

Evangelization is not about converting people from other religions, Mr. Avvento explained; it's about nurturing the faith of the people in the pews or trying to bring lapsed Catholics home.

First, he says, leaders must enrich their own faith lives.

"One has to convert oneself to the love of Christ to bring that light to the world," he said.

Ideas for bringing people back abound, Mr. Avvento said. They include:

• Generational marketing: Only 11 percent of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 25 say their faith is extremely important in shaping their daily lives, according to the 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion.

The others, who are still in touch with the sacred, need just as much attention. This cohort often relates to social justice issues and outreach projects, so parishes can offer these to the larger community.

• Adult faith enrichment: Encourage adults to learn more about their faith. During the first year, parish evangelization should concentrate on the Hebrew Scriptures - for instance, the liberation and establishment of Israel and how it relates to the new people of God.

(The scriptural theme for year two of Amazing God is the Gospels and how to love as Christ did; for year three, the Acts of the Apostles and the growth of Christian community.)

• New technology: In addition to texting parishioners, why not put parishes on Facebook, Twitter and blogs? Parishes can also make websites interactive by posting homilies after Mass or letting parishioners ask the priest questions about the faith.

• Embrace newcomers: Follow up with new parishioners beyond their first visit. Send a thank-you letter after their first visit. Ask about their prayer needs.

• Be ecumenical: "This is not just about Catholics. This is about communities," Mr. Avvento noted. Meet with leaders from other denominations and share ideas.

• Advertise: Consider making signs for the community that read, "God is amazing. See you at our parish," or, "Let's celebrate Christmas together." Team up with other local churches and make a billboard encouraging Catholics to "come home" for a holiday.

• Integrate Church and life: The Catholic Church was integral to the lives of immigrants in the early and middle part of last century, but many congregants have lost interest in mixing faith with social lives. Mr. Avvento calls this "parking lot Catholicism."

In light of a new wave of immigrants and a sour economy, he said, parishes can start to offer evenings of cheap fun, featuring movies, music, games or wine and cheese socials for families.

Offer resources for the jobless, singles, widows and widowers and people with special needs. Stress "piety beyond the pews," Mr. Avvento suggested.

• Celebrate ethnic diversity: Offer social gatherings educating the community on the cultures represented in your parish. Incorporate traditions of other cultures into liturgies. At Pentecost 2013, parishes will be encouraged to pray and sing in different tongues.

The Diocese will roll out a resource guide for parish leaders this fall. Amazing God's launch coincides with the rededication of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany on Nov. 21, as well as a youth rally Nov. 12-13 and the production of a DVD retreat featuring Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.


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