Monday, September 25, 2017 - Updated: 9:00 am
Jim Zern is the first to admit that, until about five years ago, he was scared of the word “evangelize,” mainly because he didn’t know what it meant.
“I thought evangelization involved standing on a street corner, with your arms raised and shouting that Jesus Christ is risen,” he said. “It’s not that at all. True evangelization is simply being a witness of Jesus to others.”
Zern, who helps lead evangelization efforts at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish in Whitehall, will speak on “The Impact of Encounter” at an upcoming diocesan Evangelization Summit.
St. Gabriel was one of the first parishes in the diocese to offer the ChristLife series for parish evangelization and outreach.
“I was leading the ChristLife program in our parish but realized halfway through that I didn’t have Jesus in my heart,” Zern said. “I was pushing him away.”
Zern said evangelization starts with a series of questions. Does Jesus love me? Do I know it? What does that feel like, and what do I do with that feeling?
The former pastor of St. Gabriel, Father John Haney, once issued a challenge that stuck with Zern: never sit back and wait to be told what to do. Be proactive.
“We need to be receptive to the call and take action,” he said. “Encountering Jesus has to happen at the personal level, the parish level and the community level.”
Zern said he is encouraged that the On Mission for The Church Alive! planning initiative is centered on how parishes, schools and ministries can best respond to the changes in their communities so they can be vital centers of worship and service, and deepen people’s relationship with Jesus.
“We need to focus on the basics of our baptismal call to be holy and to evangelize,” Zern said.
“I used to pray to God to help me because I needed something,” he said. “Now it’s a prayer of thanks for giving me everything I need to do his will.”
The Evangelization Summit also will feature a talk on creating a welcoming parish culture for all people, by Father Carmen D’Amico, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadow Lands. Jean Pascale and Janet Crespi from St. James the Apostle Parish in Pulaski will speak about “old-fashioned evangelization” — how they used direct-mail marketing to invite members of the community to their parish.
“The idea of the summit is to gather the evangelists from our parishes who don’t always have the chance to talk with each other, and to learn about what’s happening in other places,” said Father Alexander Wroblicky, associate director for evangelization and missionary outreach for the diocese. “It’s intended to help us encounter one another, build relationships and develop new ideas together.”
The gathering, which will be offered Monday, Oct. 2, from 9 a.m. to noon or 1 to 4 p.m. at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton, is open to parish staff members and volunteers who help lead evangelization programs. Register at: https://catholicdioceseofpittsburgh.formstack.com/forms/evangelization_summit_2017.