Evangelization series helps to revitalize parishes

Sawyer Shuey is Methodist, so he hadn’t pictured himself in a Catholic church talking about his spiritual life. But after taking part in a program that explores the Christian faith, he and fiancé Alana DeLuca, who is Catholic, want to continue to deepen their relationship with Jesus.

Shuey and DeLuca, both 24, of Allison Park, participated in Alpha, an evangelization series based on hospitality, sharing and open conversation. The sessions, which include dinner, video presentations and small group discussions, were offered by St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Glenshaw.

After participating in Alpha, the couple became table hosts, facilitating the dialogue.

“I liked how the videos relate to young people,” Shuey said. “I also enjoyed hearing about people’s personal faith experiences.”

“We both believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” DeLuca said, “and like a friendship where you need to have conversations, we have to talk to Jesus and pray as much as possible.”

Alpha and a similar program, ChristLife, are part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative to make disciples for Jesus and help revitalize parishes.

More than 400 people have experienced Alpha at the Glenshaw parish over the past two years. About half of them later joined discipleship groups. A new round of sessions starts Sept. 12.

“More people now know each other and are volunteering as catechists and for our fish fry and festival,” said Sue Ferguson, St. Mary’s coordinator of Alpha.

At St. Alexis Parish in Wexford, nearly 150 parishioners and neighbors have taken part in Alpha, according to leader Rob Dougherty.

“One man who had not been to church in years told us it’s transformed his life,” he said. “As many as 20 people described how the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they felt God’s grace come into their lives for the first time.”

“Our society is increasingly secular, but people are also searching for connectedness,” said Father Alex Wroblicky, director of the diocesan School of Missionary Discipleship. “The human heart is always hungry for God, and these programs create an opportunity to explore deeper questions.”

The school, an intensive process of formation, consultation and training, involves three phases:

• Ignite! lights the fire of renewal in parishes. Through spiritual awakening experiences, members are invited to grow as disciples capable of responding to parish needs such as hospitality and outreach.

• On Fire! is an in-depth spiritual formation program to help Catholics discern their personal gifts and mission as disciples of Christ.

• Equip! is a training program for specific volunteer leadership roles in parishes, including catechesis, evangelization, pastoral care and social services, in support of clergy and lay ecclesial ministers.

Parishioners are led through four stages of spiritual growth: encountering Jesus, growing in faith, discerning their gifts and answering the call to mission.

“I want to continue this relationship with God, praying more and encouraging each other,” DeLuca said.

“Alpha has opened up new conversations for us,” Shuey added. “I try to keep God in mind more every day.”

To learn more, visit diopitt.org/smd or call 412-456-3156.