Army of Catholic Lay Evangelizers on the Offensive

Program Makes Full-Time Catechists of Indians in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY, JULY 31, 2002 (Zenit.org).- With the canonization of Juan Diego, witness of the Guadalupe apparitions and an evangelizer of the Aztecs, John Paul II highlighted the role Indians have in proclaiming the Gospel.



This is, in fact, the objective of the Full-Time Evangelizers program of Mexico and Central America, which trains and supports lay catechists, including many Indians.

Alejandro Pinelo, director of the program, spoke with ZENIT about the program, which has 1,000 Indians dedicated full time to evangelization, and 35,000 part-timers.

Q: When did you begin this initiative?

Pinelo: In 1994 I began to dedicate myself to the formation of pastoral agents who are committed full time to evangelization in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela, through a program of formation that begins with five intensive weeks of study and prayer, and continues with one-week semester updates.

Q: How did the idea arise?

Pinelo: Initially, the work was conceived for rural areas where priests cannot carry out all their activities because of the vast territorial expanse of Mexican parishes. Some have up to 20 or 30 chapels. One can only respond with the laity to the great demand for formation, liturgical services, pre-sacramental courses and preparation of catechists.

Q: The great majority of evangelizers are Indians. Today they have a saint who is very close to them.

Pinelo: Indeed, many of them are bilingual, because in Mexico there is a great quantity of dialects and Indian languages. There are more than 27 different ones among our evangelizers and catechists.

They are people as native as Juan Diego himself, with whom many of them identified with before he was beatified. The one who is now a saint is very much loved throughout Mexico. Now he will be able to be a more effective model and intercessor in the new evangelization.

Q: Does this mean that they only work in rural areas?

Pinelo: No. Our work is carried out both in cities as well as the country, wherever the bishop indicates a priority.

Q: On which bishop does the program of evangelizers depend?

Pinelo: On each one of the dioceses where we are invited. The one who requests and authorizes the program is the bishop. Often, it is he, himself, who brings together his priests to make a general presentation of the program. Each one of the parish priests chooses the candidates among those agents who already have three or more years of pastoral service.

Following the example of Juan Diego Cuahutlatoatzin, we do what the bishop tells us, with the certainty that in doing so we please God and will attain excellence.

Q: What is its specific charism? What is novel about the program?

Pinelo: Apostolic effectiveness. We have St. Paul and St. Peter as patrons. The former enlightens us with his capacity of evangelizing work; the latter compels us to maintain unity around the Vicar of Christ, giving us the guarantee of going on the right road.

St. Augustine advises paying attention to the road you take, because if you are mistaken, the more you run the farther away you are from the goal.

We regard effectiveness as reaching the greatest number of brothers, in a profound way, in proclamation and formation, in the least time possible.

Q: This sounds like business language.

Pinelo: Yes. The fact is that the program is carried out by the laity, many of whom are professionals and, needless to say, we have wanted to put the best methodology at the service of the Church. The latest fashion in the 16th century was the printing press, and the Franciscans worked to bring it over; we use current tools.

Q: How does the program work in practice?

Pinelo: We give in-depth formation to full-time evangelizers so that they can form others who will be dedicated, even though part time, to catechesis, liturgy or human development. In this way, we have been able to prepare 35,000 part-time evangelizers.

Q: Who accredits the formation of these agents?

Pinelo: Our programs are based on the methodology of the pontifical School of Faith, a university institution directed by the Legionaries of Christ.

Q: Who pays for the scholarships?

Pinelo: They are paid for by committed laymen who finance the project.

Q: Juan Diego's canonization is a very special moment for you. Have you prepared a special activity?

Pinelo: Of course. We have been preparing ourselves for over a year. Twelve hundred of our evangelizers were able to attend the canonization in the basilica of Guadalupe, as the space was very limited, but almost all of them were on the streets.

The congress we hold every two years, will take place on Aug. 2 and 3. Obviously, on this occasion we have dedicated it to St. Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe as the first evangelizers of America. The motto is "Go out into the world and preach the Gospel."

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A Spanish-language site at www.evangelizadores.org has more details about the Full-Time Evangelizers program.