The primary goal of the Year of Faith that Pope Benedict XVI declared in 2011 was to inspire Catholics to renew their relationship with Christ and His Church. While the Year of Faith ends this November, efforts to bring others to Christ and the Catholic faith will never stop.
One example of a successful evangelization effort in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is the Alpha Course. Dozens of archdiocesan parishes have offered the 10-week course to help people explore the meaning and purpose of life in the context of their faith.
This fall the Alpha Course will be offered Monday evenings at St. Norbert Parish in Paoli, Tuesday evenings at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in West Chester and Thursday evenings at SS. Simon and Jude Parish in West Chester.
It will also be offered at Visitation B.V.M. Parish in Norristown, Montgomery County, beginning Sept. 19. (See schedule below for details.)
Although the Alpha Course was created by an Anglican minister in England, several notable Catholic leaders have endorsed the course as an effective evangelization tool, including Capuchin Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, Archbishop Octavio Ruiz, secretary for the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president for the Pontifical Council on Christian Unity.
The format of the Alpha sessions is simple: good food, Alpha talk and discussion in a friendly and nonthreatening environment. While there is no charge for the course, freewill offerings are accepted.
Alpha administrators from the three Chester County parishes have witnessed the positive impact the course has on participants.
“It’s just an amazing transformation that we see,” said Ed Grady from St. Norbert Parish. “As a result of the community, talks and prayer sessions, God touches them. The vast majority of people become more actively involved in parish ministries.”
Grady encourages parishioners to come to the information night and see if they feel called to attend the course. He noted that some who decide to participate do so reluctantly.
“A lot of people don’t want to be there and they’re just doing it because someone pushed them,” Grady said. “Over the 10 weeks we see their heart being opened and their anger going away. The change is just incredible.”
Maureen Doran from SS. Simon and Jude Parish acknowledges that some Catholics who attend the course are angry about the incidents of clergy sexual abuse.
“Over the 10 weeks, forgiveness is the biggest accomplishment, and it takes away all the pain,” Doran said. “They stop being angry with God and staying away from the Church.”
Deacon Lou Libbi from SS. Peter and Paul Parish said the course helps people to look at their faith from a logical standpoint. “A lot of people struggle with how their faith is part of their everyday life,” Deacon Libbi said. “I think it helps give people a better understanding of how Christ is part of their lives.”
In addition, Deacon Libbi said participants gain a greater appreciation for the spiritual benefits of their Catholic faith. “We all receive such a wonderful gift through baptism and the other sacraments, but very few of us realize how great the gift is of receiving the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I think Alpha helps us to open our eyes to how great that gift is, and you just want more of it.”
He also sees transformations happen among Alpha participants. “People were coming to church just because it was an obligation,” Deacon Libbi said. “Now they’re coming out of love, and that love is being carried out into the world and they’re transforming other people.”
All three organizers said Alpha attendees become more actively involved in parish ministries, and many people want to continue learning about their Catholic faith.
Deacon Libbi said SS. Peter and Paul Parish will offer Bible studies and the “Catholicism” video series with host Father Robert Barron.
At St. Norbert, Grady noted that all the parish’s adult formation programs are scheduled to begin in January so “the Alpha people can jump into another program right away.”
“I keep saying it’s like Pentecost,” Grady added. Participants get “filled with the Holy Spirit and they go out and evangelize and bring other people to Alpha.”
Alpha information nights including dinner are:
Monday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.
St. Norbert Parish, School Dining Room
50 Leopard Road
Paoli, PA 19301
Contact: email@example.com, 610-442-9079
Course starts Monday, Sept. 30
Thursday, Sept. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
SS. Simon & Jude Meehan Center (lower level of church)
8 Cavanaugh Court
West Chester, PA 19382
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 610-429-4308
Course starts Thursday, Sept. 19
Thursday, Sept. 19* at 6:30 p.m.
SS. Peter & Paul Church — Father Bednar Hall (lower level of church)
1325 Boot Road
West Chester, PA 19380
Contact: email@example.com, 610-431-3099
*Note: Information dinner will be Thursday, Sept. 19; course begins Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Thursday, Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Visitation B.V.M. Parish — School Library (entrance closest to Chestnut Street and Trooper Road)
196 N. Trooper Road
Norristown, PA 19403
Contact John at 610-513-7227. Free babysitting is available.
Tuesday, Sept. 17, 6:30-9 p.m.
St. Francis De Sales Parish in Philadelphia at the Assumption Convent
Contact Doug Brintnall at 267-228 -2559 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia
Call the parish rectory at 215-549-3760.
To find a course offered in your area, visit the Alpha website.