Meghan Cokeley

After the resurrection, before he ascended into heaven, Jesus issued a final commandment to his disciples. He told them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).

What we don’t often realize about these well-known words is that this mandate from Christ is not locked in history 2,000 years ago. Jesus, as God, speaks these words ever anew, into every human heart at the moment of baptism. This is an amazing reality: when you were baptized, you became a participant in Jesus Christ’s mission from the Father. You were actually given a share, a unique and unrepeatable role to play, in God’s plan to save the world.

The Office for the New Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia exists to stir up an awareness of and cooperation with this gift of grace that was poured into each of our souls at baptism. We do this primarily through working with parish leaders to strengthen them in their own personal intimacy with Jesus and then equipping them with proven methods of reaching out to parishioners and inactive Catholics to help them discover the life-saving love of Jesus for them as it is offered to us in the heart of the Catholic Church.

While there is joy in the mission of the new evangelization, it is also a rigorous one. Anyone who wishes to respond to Christ’s mandate to make disciples is regularly up against rapidly declining numbers of people attending Mass, the tsunami of secularization that seems to be swallowing up everything in its wake and numerous internal problems in the human side of the Church.

But because the missionary disciple is on mission with Christ, there is a joy and a love that impels us despite all the obstacles and troubling statistics. This is so because we know that in the end, his plan cannot be thwarted.

Recently, I received the surprising news that Archbishop Perez had decided to create the position of assistant director in the Office for the New Evangelization. It came as a surprise because I knew that our post-COVID situation made our financial situation very tight. But on the other hand, it should not have been surprising because from the beginning, Archbishop Perez has been announcing repeatedly that his priority as Archbishop of Philadelphia is to see a culture of missionary discipleship spring up and flourish here in our local church.

The creation of a new full-time position in evangelization is a very concrete expression of that commitment. I see it as the archdiocese’s way of “putting its money where its mouth is,” so to speak.  We as the church often talk about evangelization. It’s an entirely different thing to make the necessary sacrifices and to invest the resources into making it happen.

The final outcome of the hiring process is that we are thrilled to be introducing Paola Herrera as the new assistant director of the Office for the New Evangelization.

She was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. In 2002 she traveled to New York City to study English, where she met her husband and moved to Philadelphia in 2003. She has two sons, Lucas, 17, and Oscar, 14. Paola holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in business from Externado de Colombia University and a Master’s of Science in church management from Villanova University.

She previously worked at the Catholic Institute of Evangelization, the Office of Population Research (OPR) at Princeton University and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Cultural Ministries Office. She also served as the director of Hispanic Ministry at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Doylestown.

Paola and I have been colleagues and friends for a number of years and have worked on various projects together. She has strong organizational skills, is a true leader and above all, her heart is on fire for Jesus Christ and his church. She will be an excellent co-laborer for the Gospel! One of the many gifts that she brings to the office is that she is fluent in both English and Spanish.

This will allow the work of the Office for the New Evangelization to expand much more intentionally into our many Hispanic communities here in the archdiocese. Paola and I are excited to begin building relationships with the beautiful apostolates already present in the Hispanic community and we hope to be of service in launching new initiatives that form and equip missionary disciples.

Our local church has entered a new time in many ways. We’ve seen the creation of two new offices for ministry with youth and ministry with young adults. And now we have the expansion of the office dedicated to the new evangelization.

I ask all of the faithful of the archdiocese to pray with me that the Lord Jesus pour out his Spirit upon us all to bring about exactly what the archbishop envisions: a church that is totally on fire with love for Jesus and animated by an intense zeal for the salvation of souls.

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To learn more about the Office for the New Evangelization and get involved, visit https://www.phillyevang.org/.