Parish leaders share ideas at an Evangelization Summit.

On Mission for The Church Alive! calls Catholics to reach out to those who have left the church or are far from God, so it’s important that our parishes are friendly, diverse faith communities, according to a pastor known for his outreach.

“When people come to a church for the first time, it’s a bold move for them,” Father Carmen D’Amico told 121 parish evangelists at a diocesan Evangelization Summit. “What is it like for someone who’s not Catholic? Often times no one talks to you. People can come away thinking that community isn’t very welcoming.”

Father D’Amico, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadow Lands, stressed the importance of encouraging cultural diversity in parishes. He noted how far people travel to attend his parish’s Spanish language Mass and suggested that other parishes offer some prayers in Spanish. Masses also must be family-friendly, especially for those with small children, and religious art should include people of color, he said.

The evangelization summit held Oct. 2 at St. Paul Seminary was intended to build relationships among parish leaders, share updates about successful outreach efforts, and help participants develop new ideas together.

“Often times, those involved in ministry don’t have many opportunities to meet with other leaders and learn from one another,” said Father Alexander Wroblicky, associate director for evangelization and missionary outreach for the diocese. “The summit provided a chance to be renewed by those who share a common purpose and passion.”

Jean Pascale and Janet Crespi of St. James the Apostle Parish in Pulaski described their “old-fashioned evangelization” approach to inviting people to their ChristLife series. They sent a mailer to 10,000 homes, which included an invitation welcoming those whose “faith has grown tired, stale, and stagnant.” More than 150 people signed up, including 31 from other faith traditions. One woman had been away from the Catholic Church for 50 years.

“St. James parishioners are hungry for souls, and they have a deep commitment to their community,” said Michel Therrien, director for evangelization and missionary outreach for the diocese.

Summit participants came away energized by the gathering.

“I love being in a room filled with other people who are on fire for the Lord,” said Carol Dello Stritto, who, with her husband Joe, is an evangelization co-lead at Our Lady of Joy Parish in Holiday Park.

Carlotta Black, an evangelization volunteer at St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, knows that reaching out to the unchurched is vital to growth.

“One of the biggest challenges is bringing Jesus to others outside of our faith,” Black said. “The summit was a valuable experience, hearing what is happening at other parishes.”

“This was an excellent meeting, the best I’ve attended in years,” said Dave Van Vickle, director of evangelization at St. Bonaventure Parish in Shaler. “I loved hearing how different ideas are working in particular parishes.”

Jim Zern, who helps lead evangelization efforts at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish in Whitehall, spoke about “The Impact of Encounter.” He admitted that while helping present ChristLife, he realized he never knew who Jesus was.

“He was always waiting patiently for me,” Zern said. “I was always resisting, until finally I accepted Jesus’ love in my heart and knew I needed to bring it to others.”

Summit participants also wrote up summaries of evangelization efforts at their parishes. For instance, young parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Glenshaw have “adopted” needy students at a Spiritan mission in southern Ethiopia, and raise funds to provide supplies. St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood hosts a “community coffeehouse” two evenings a month, which draws people who are non-religious, as well as parishioners.

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