Bringing Faith Formation to the Parish Level (Part One)

Members of Alpha Address Synod for New Evangelization

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, OCT. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The New Evangelization should be founded on a spirit of mission, not only in the formation of those within the Church, but those who have yet to discover the person of Jesus Christ.

This was one of the points made by Father James Mallon, board member of Alpha Canada and Alpha International. A parish priest of the Archdiocese of Halifax, Canada, Father Mallon is also founder and director of the John Paul II Media Institute, a video production company which makes documentaries and adult faith-formation resources.

Speaking in the context of the recent Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, which some members of Alpha participated, Father Mallon sat down with ZENIT and shed light on the mission of Alpha, and on the Christian call of spreading the Gospel.

ZENIT: For our readers who may not be familiar with it, could you explain what Alpha movement is?

Mallon: The first thing I would say is that Alpha is not a movement, and this is a very important point. We thank God for the incredible things that have happened through the movements in the Church. Often times, the vast majority of evangelization that has been taking place is through these movements.

I believe the strength of Alpha is that it is not a movement. It is a tool for New Evangelization and renewal to happen in the parish. Traditionally, people have gone to the movements because parishes often have not been places where people have experienced spiritual nourishment, sustenance, formation, and community. I have a conviction that the key to New Evangelization is parishes coming to life and offering these kinds of things.
Alpha is a ten-week course that is basically an introduction to the Christian Faith. It is primarily designed to speak to people who are non-believers, people who are outside of the Church. It is not principally a faith-formation program for current Church-going people. Although it can be used for that, its primarily reason of existence is to be a place where non-believers, non-Catholics, or fallen-away Catholics can come and hear the initial proclamation of the Gospel – the Kerygma if you will – a call to know Christ as Jesus: what did Jesus do, why did He die, the meaning of the Resurrection, the Person of the Holy Spirit.
It is a ten-week course that is designed, then, to lead people who are not into the Church to begin to look at becoming members of the Church. When the Alpha course finishes, many will often go on to get involved and join the Church, and be involved in ongoing formation.

ZENIT: All of you are here in Rome for this Synod on New Evangelization. Could you speak about your participation in the Synod?

Mallon: Our formal participation in the Synod has been the chairs of our board, Marc and Florence de Leyritz [founders of Alpha France]. I believe they are the only married couple at the Synod, and they may in fact be the first married couple to speak together at a podium at a Synod in the history of the Church. They spoke about their passion for parish-based evangelization, and engaging the laity in the task of evangelization. This is very important because so often we have given an overly clerical interpretation to the task of evangelization. The Gospel reading [for the feast of Saint Luke, which occurred during the Synod] we heard: "Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Often that scripture passage has been used in prayers for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and it certainly applies to that. But I believe the primary meaning of that text is that the Baptized are laborers in the harvest. I believe as priests and leaders we are called, in a sense, to manage the workers who are working within the vineyard, and Alpha does that very well.

ZENIT: What do you hope will come from this Synod, and how will can the fruits of this Synod be brought back to the people?

Mallon: Obviously it is always a struggle. Synods can produce profound and wonderful documents that are full of theological richness, but the problem is that one, many Catholics remain oblivious to the fact that these documents exist. Secondly, even if you are aware that they exist, we as Catholics often have a tremendous theology, but one thing that we often lack is a model to put into action the theology that is being expressed. That's my fear: after the Synod we'll have a beautiful document that no one will really know what to do with practically speaking. My hope, especially with regard to Alpha, is that Alpha will be seen as one of the tools that can be used to give a model for evangelization.

Oftentimes, when people talk about New Evangelization, it can very quickly become a catchphrase to describe just about everything and anything. If everything is evangelization, then nothing is evangelization. Even if there is an organic unity in the demands of pastoral care within the Church, there can be a distinction made between evangelization and catechesis and ongoing discipleship. These are things that we can focus in on separately.

Evangelization has to be, first, Kerygma-centered, and I hope the Synod highlights that. Secondly, I believe that the New Evangelization will be tied into mission, in the sense that it is ad extra, that it is looking outside of the Church. A lot of the discussions that have come up, even within the Synod, have been about Church governance, about the pastoral care of our current members, how to deepen people's faith, how to catechize them. And that's all part of it, but to be truly missionary, we have got to be saying "How do we reach people who do not believe?" As Pope John Paul II said, evangelization is the proclamation of Christ to those who do not know Him, and that involves looking outside of ourselves.