Rachel Bonin’s mission is to get Catholics reacquainted with their faith and out of their comfort zone — and closer to what looks like evangelical Protestant territory.
Evangelization, testifying, sharing faith stories and inviting people to check out their faith are unfamiliar acts to many Catholics. But they’re at the center of a new initiative by the Twin Cities archdiocese aimed at refreshing Catholics’ knowledge of church teachings and getting them to spread the word.
Considered one of the first-of-its-kind among U.S. dioceses, Rediscover calls on Catholics to share the gospel message and form a “personal relationship” with Jesus — echoing some of the core beliefs of Evangelicals.
It’s the latest example of American Catholic leaders’ growing alliance with conservative Protestants, religious scholars say.
“It’s [evangelization] a new step for Catholics, ” said Bonin, who’s helped organize Rediscover-related events at her parish, St. Mary of the Lake church in White Bear Lake. “Historically, it’s not our gig.”
Bonin recently took the Rediscover message to her church’s parish life center. Sitting in metal folding chairs and holding note pads and pens, 30 or so parishioners were divided into small groups to discuss Matthew Kelly’s book, “Rediscover Catholicism,” a centerpiece of the initiative.
“We’re looking for some testimonials to share with others what this is all about,” Bonin said to the group.
“I feel ... people are looking for this whether they’ve had members of their families fall away from Catholicism or look elsewhere,” she said after her brief address to the group. “We failed the teaching mission somehow. ... Some of that knowledge has faded, or maybe wasn’t taught.”
Several hundred thousand dollars are being spent to roll out Rediscover, which includes talks at churches and the formation of book clubs to discuss Kelly’s book; some 180,000 copies of the book are being handed out to Catholics in the archdiocese. Rediscover’s first year will be celebrated at an October event at the St. Paul RiverCentre, where 5,000 Catholics are expected to hear Kelly and others talk about its progress.
To date, more than 7,000 local Catholics have attended Rediscover events at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, St. John Neumann in Eagan and Our Lady of Grace in Edina, according to archdiocesan officials.
The Rediscover website launched in November has had 15,598 unique visitors and 108,000 page views. There have been 1,336 downloads of the iPhone/iPad and Android versions of the Rediscover app since they were made available for free in February.
Archdiocesan officials have been working nearly four years to develop Rediscover, an endeavor that grew out of Pope John Paul II’s call for a “new evangelization” in the church — an effort to reignite the faith in an increasingly secularized Europe and other traditionally Christian parts of the world.
Historically, Catholic priests, bishops and other religious leaders have been responsible for proselytizing the faith. But with Rediscover, every Catholic is called to be an evangelist.
“There is always a risk in sharing our faith with someone else, but if we really love our neighbor we will want to share with them what is most dear to us and what is necessary for their salvation,” Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote in a pastoral letter about Rediscover. “Only if we all become evangelists can we hope to influence our culture as Christ surely desires us to do.”
An emerging alliance
Rediscover is the latest illustration of the link between conservative-leaning Catholics and evangelical Protestants. The two groups have joined forces on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the Obama administration’s health care program. In the days following the surprise announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation, a number of evangelical leaders lauded the outgoing pontiff and his conservative vision for the church.
Such sentiments were not the norm a few decades ago, when an uneasy tension existed between Catholics and evangelicals, notes the Rev. Thomas Rausch, professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
“I think there’s a lot more that Catholics and evangelicals have in common, and they really rediscovered each other in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “I think evangelicals are becoming more aware of the social dimensions of the gospel as they encounter Catholic social thought.”
He continued: “One of the reasons a lot of Catholics are swayed by evangelicals is that evangelicals use this language of a personal relationship with Jesus. A lot of Catholics are not aware of having one. They may have one, but they don’t use that kind of language, because it’s not part of their religious imagination.”
The number of Catholics in the United States has dropped significantly in the past decade, church attendance is waning and many Catholics remain at odds with bishops over issues such as gay marriage, birth control, married priests and women’s ordination.
Jamie Manson, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter who’s written about the relationship between Catholics and evangelicals, says Rediscover is a novel effort but fails to address the issues dividing U.S. Catholics.
A number of Catholics who have left the church have joined evangelical denominations, many of which are growing financially as they add followers.
“I’ve never seen anything like [Rediscover],” Manson said. “Is it a harbinger of things to come? Possibly. ... It’s really something right out of the evangelical church, because that’s where they put their money. Technologically, they tend to be very cutting-edge and savvy.”