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Parish Goes Out into the Streets and Compels Them to Come In



Claire Wallace - published on 01/29/15

St. Bernard’s E-Team: Answering the Call for a New Evangelization

When members of St. Bernard’s parish in Pittsburgh took a course called “Discovering God’s Vision For Your Life,” participants discovered they had something previously thought to belong only to religious orders: charisms. 

Some, in fact, discovered they had the charism of evangelism, and from this group, eight parishioners stepped forward to take an active role in developing a parish-wide New Evangelization Committee. 

This “The E-team,” as they came to call their group, set themselves a challenge: to motivate inactive and fallen-away Catholics to not only come back to the faith, but to embrace it with passion.

Thus began St. Bernard’s full and active participation in the New Evangelization that recent Popes have felt is so necessary for the West.

Serving two densely populated communities in this western Pennsylvania city, St. Bernard’s has more than 10,000 parishionrs. If there’s one particular Gospel that motivates them, it’s Luke. Church leaders know that nothing is impossible with God.

On fire with the Holy Spirit and encouraged by St. Bernard’s pastor, Father David J. Bonnar, the E-team got busy. First things first: develop a mission statement that clearly defines the goal. What emerged was, in part, the following:

Driven by Divine love, we seek to help all people come to experience the transforming nature of God’s grace, the perennial truth of the Gospel, and a living sacramental relationship with Jesus Christ.

What better way to start putting that mission statement into action than by dedicating a Holy Hour to pray for those who for whatever reason are not living life as followers of Christ, let alone disciples. The turnout was impressive, considering that the journey had just begun. In conjunction with the parish’s pastoral council, neighborhoods were defined and brought together for special Masses followed by social gatherings complete with food and friendly smiles. As part of each gathering, E-team members spoke with attendees and supplied them with two pamphlets—one that explained how to reach out to others in the spirit of evangelization, and the other to invite wanderers of the faith to return via the message “We Miss You.” (Both pamphlets can be found at, site of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association).

When Advent arrived, the E-team created an invitation titled: "Come Back, Come Home, Come Let Us Adore Him." The appeal was to let everyone know that the doors of St. Bernard were wide open and that a place for them had been set at the table. The invitations were handed out by greeters before Mass throughout the liturgical season, and distributed by team members to businesses within the district. Not one business, which included restaurants, apartment buildings and a variety of retail shops, turned down the opportunity to place the fliers on their counters, bulletin boards and tables.

For the Lenten season that year, the E-team created another invitation and placed them throughout church property, from the sanctuary to its adoration chapel, and from the halls and lunchroom of its elementary school to its rectory offices. For six weeks, anyone and everyone who came near the place got invited to "Light Up Your Life at St. Bernard Parish." The invitation welcomed visitors and encouraged them to tell everyone they knew to experience the “greatest gift of all” through reconciliation, prayer, adoration and, of course, frequent Holy Communion.

When spring arrived, the team presented “Catholicism: The New Evangelization,” a DVD series by Father Robert Barron, which included six 90-minute sessions, small group discussions and take-home assignments. The parish also offered a five-part series of presentations designed to break open and reflect on Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel.” Its message that every baptized Catholic is called to evangelize and to be a missionary disciple was shared with a large turnout.

Keeping the momentum, the E-team joined with parish staff and a number of various committee members to read and study motivational writers such as Matthew Kelly (whose books Rediscover Catholicism and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic were also given freely to parishioners), Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, which also included a trip to her workshop sponsored by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and their very own Bishop David A. Zubik’s 32-page pastoral letter entitled "The Church Evangelizing."

Currently, the team is preparing to invite parishioners to attend a four-hour workshop designed to impart skills necessary for faith-sharing opportunities. With much prayer and hope, the workshop will inspire individuals to spread the Gospel by speaking about their faith journey to a roomful of seekers, as well as to the person next to them, wherever they may be. After the workshop, the plan is to hold “Sharing Your Story” sessions.

So the next time someone asks a new parishioner, like Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington once did, “What took you so long to enter the Church?” or to come back, the E-team hopes to change the answer from “No one ever asked me” to “Until now, no one showed me how I could find such beauty, joy and fulfillment in Jesus though the life of the Catholic Church.”

And, while it’s too soon to count, the E-team knows it’s not about the numbers. It’s all about Jesus Christ and the New Evangelization.

Claire Wallace is a freelance writer and catechist at St. Bernard Parish.

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