Maria Gonzalez Dyne What is this Alpha?

We interviewed Maria Gonzalez Dyne, Alpha International's Director for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, a Spanish Catholic woman who has lived in the UK for the past few years and will be celebrating her first anniversary in the United Kingdom. Silver Jubilee working intensively on the next WYD in Lisbon

Marta Isabel González Álvarez-July 17, 2023-Reading time: 8 minutes

Photo: María González Dyne @migasocial

His life changed when he volunteered in El Beni (Bolivia). From that moment on, he decided to dedicate himself to others and to fight against the inequalities of this world. "making life difficult for themselves" through international development cooperation and solidarity to bring the Kingdom of God to all people.

Maria Gonzalez Dyne has spent a large part of her professional life between Caritas, Manos Unidas y CAFOD. But just over a year ago, her life was turned upside down when she agreed to become the new head of Europe, Middle East and North Africa and Deputy Global Head of Alpha International Catholic ContextThis is something that never crossed his mind when he did his first "Alpha Course" in Kenya, twenty-five years ago.

She has just turned fifty, has three children attending university and the whole family considers themselves "parish people", they love to sing at celebrations and their "little piece of heaven on earth" is Taizé where they escape whenever they can to breathe the peace, simplicity and silence of this ecumenical community in the South of France. But next August, he will celebrate his Silver Jubilee working in the Lisbon World Youth Day (WYD).

What would you highlight from these years in terms of your professional and vocational life?

-These years my life has been anything but boring! I feel tremendously fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to live my faith and vocation and put it at the service of the Church throughout all these years. When I was young, I remember how I was impacted by the visit and witness of some missionary nuns from Africa to my parish. I graduated in Biology with the desire to "find a vaccine for malaria" but it was on my first trip to the jungle of El Beni (Bolivia) in the mid 90's, where I could really see so much inequality.

I decided to change direction and put biology aside to continue my training in the world of development cooperation and humanitarian aid in order to do my bit, and above all, to support the local Church in its efforts to combat poverty and social exclusion.  

Over the past 20 years, I have had the good fortune to work for large Church organizations (Caritas, Manos Unidas, CAFOD), travel to different countries around the world and see how their support and accompaniment of so many organizations and local Churches transforms lives.

I feel privileged to have met so many exceptional people, "saintly" people in so many corners of this world, people who give their all without expecting anything in return, who fill you with hope and shower you with love wherever they go and although they may go unnoticed in social networks or other media, they certainly leave their mark.

Today I work at Alpha International and my work focuses on the field of "New Evangelization". 25 years ago, when my husband and I were living in Kenya, some friends invited us to do an "Alpha Course" to explore the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We were really impressed with this "tool of first proclamation" and saw the great impact it had on so many people who were far from the faith or atheists. Today, 30 million people worldwide have taken an Alpha Course.

Audience of Alpha members with Pope Francis.

Tell us exactly what is Alpha International, what is its objective, when was it born? And how is it present in Spain?

-Alpha International is an organization based in London and present in more than 140 countries, whose origins date back to the early 80's, and was born in the heart of the Anglican church, in a context of great secularization and social decline; spreading its use in a very short period of time among other Christian denominations. 

Alpha exists to equip and serve the Church in its evangelizing mission so that people may have a personal encounter with Jesus. The course is free of charge: 15 sessions in 11 consecutive weeks and one day of retreat. The group or groups that are formed (approximately 8 - 12 people) meet for dinner or lunch together, followed by a time of discussion/video and then ending with a time of reflection and questions. The title of the first session is entitled: "Is there more to life than this?".

Listening is one of the most important elements of Alpha, as well as the action of the Holy Spirit. The videos and materials are of very high quality and have been contextualized and translated into more than 120 languages. Alpha is also conducted in a large number of prisons around the world, giving access to the Gospel to those deprived of their freedom. Alpha has helped develop other courses such as "Alpha Youth, a course for couples or for parents, among others.

In Spain, it is better known as "Cenas Alpha". and is a tool that hundreds of church organizations and institutions, as well as thousands of parishes (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox), use to make Jesus known in a fun, entertaining and relaxed way without any kind of prejudice or pressure.

At our countryIn the last three years alone, more than 40,000 people have taken Alpha courses, and it is a resource offered free of charge to parishes in their evangelizing mission. In 2022, almost 300 parishes and churches took Alpha courses, and many of them repeat it two and three times a year, seeing how the community is growing and getting involved in other ministries of the Church.

"Alpha helps change the culture of our parishes so that they can move from maintenance to mission," so says one of the priests who most highly recommends Alpha as a tool for pastoral transformation, Fr. James Mallon.

Who is behind Alpha International and how is it financed?

Alpha International is an international federation registered as a non-profit association in the United Kingdom and linked to the Church where Alpha was created; Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). Alpha's mission is summarized in Matthew 28: 19: "Go and make disciples of all nations...".

Alpha's vision is the evangelization of nations, the revitalization of the Church and the transformation of society. In this sense, each of the national offices that constitute Alpha International has its national office and National Council (formed by volunteers passionate about evangelization); being these governance teams who ensure a transparent management of its resources.  

It is financed through contributions and private donations from individuals and institutions that support evangelization and has a very broad network of volunteers, which allows Alpha to be present in the vast majority of dioceses and support parishes, congregations, schools and any Christian entity interested in spreading "the good news".

Last year alone, more than 1.5 million people around the world had the opportunity to meet Jesus through Alpha.

Ultimately, those behind Alpha are thousands of people who dedicate their time, labor and financial resources so that others have the opportunity to explore the Christian faith and have a personal encounter with Christ.

Alpha has really resonated with young people, how do you work with them and how was your meeting a year ago with Pope Francis in Rome?

-For Alpha, working with youth and young adults is one of our most important pillars. Of the more than 63,000 courses that took place last year, 35% were from "Alpha Youth". We believe that everyone, everywhere, should have the opportunity to discover Jesus and age should not be an impediment.

The social, economic, political and cultural landscape is changing rapidly, especially in the last five years. The global pandemic has accelerated these changes, and more and more young people are relying on technology and social media for communication, education and community interaction, often relegating faith to the background or discarding it.

It is in this context that we consider it essential to develop new ways to reach out to these new generations of young people, with new resources and technologies adapted to their context. Young people are not only the Church of today, but of tomorrow.

On August 5, 2022, the Holy Father received more than 300 of us, mostly young people, in a private audience. It was a very meaningful experience for all of us: despite the Pope's fragile state of health, we were moved by the fact that he decided to greet and shake hands with each and every one of the 300 people present! We were very touched by his words, to be honest: "May Jesus be your best friend, your companion along the way, may the living Jesus become your life, every day, forever.". With these words of Blessed Carlo Acutis he said farewell to us all "Please do not be photocopies, but originals, each of you. Thank you for coming.". To the unanimous shout of "Long live the Pope," Francis turned, smiled and gave his final blessing.

Now you will be present at WYD in Lisbon, what exactly will you do there?

-We are very excited to be present for another year and for the fourth time in a row at WYD. We will have a couple of stands in Lisbon, City of Joy - in Belem - where we will be able to welcome pilgrims and show them what Alpha is all about. The ultimate goal is that every young person feels inspired and called to evangelization and through Alpha, they can invite other young people to discover the faith, in a fun and impactful way. 

At the Parroquia Nossa Senhora Dos Anjos, in Lisbon, Alpha will also have a group of young volunteers interacting with the pilgrim groups and, on large screens, different sessions of "Alpha Youth" in a cheerful and relaxed atmosphere.

Music and worship also play a major role in Alpha, where we will create a space where young people can worship and praise together. Alpha is not a movement, it is an instrument at the service of the Universal Church. During WYD, we want to offer the opportunity for parishes, priests and young leaders to get to know and experience Alpha, so that once they return to their parishes, movements or organizations, they can use this tool in their evangelizing work.

But you also organize large-scale events yourselves. Is it true that you filled the Royal Albert Hall in London this year?

-And so true. The "star" event of Alpha, is the Leadership Conferencewhere every year it brings together more than 5,000 people from all over the world at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It is a unique, transformative experience that really touches the soul. No one leaves indifferent. This event is open to anyone who in any way occupies, or feels called to take a leadership role in a specific area of today's society, whether in the family, at work, in the Church, in politics, in the world of the arts ....

During two days, conferences and workshops are combined with moments of prayer, praise and worship, which seek not only to provide a space for an intimate encounter with God, but also to inspire, raise awareness, call to action and be a witness of God's love in our daily lives. It is always a joy to see bishops, priests, religious men and women of different Christian denominations and lay people united in prayer. Speakers such as Cardinal Raniero Cantalamesa, Cardinal Tagle, and other personalities from the Vatican have come on many occasions. During the pandemic, we had to do the Conference on-line, and what a surprise when we saw that more than 100,000 people had registered!

Alpha's Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

What other events will you participate in and what is the 2023-2024 agenda for Alpha?

-In addition to WYD in August, Alpha will be present at the ecumenical event. Together 2023 promoted by Pope Francis and which will take place on September 30, in St. Peter's Square, and led by the Taizé Community, in the framework of the opening of the next Synod of Synodality. Alpha is part of the preparatory committee, and we hope that this prayer vigil will bring together young people from around the world in a spirit of unity.

To conclude Next year, we will be holding another Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall on May 6 & 7, 2024. 

But the most important date that we at Alpha have already marked on our calendars is April 17, 2033, just 10 years from now, when we will celebrate 2000 years since the death, passion and resurrection of our Lord.

Our Church is truly alive and the Holy Spirit is blowing strongly, fanning the flames in hearts and awakening new charisms and initiatives. Alpha is one more tool at the disposal of the Church to reach out to people who are farthest away in the faith. Nothing makes us more excited than joining efforts and working with other organizations and movements in the new evangelization. 

The authorMarta Isabel González Álvarez

D. in journalism, expert in institutional communication and Communication for Solidarity. In Brussels she coordinated the communication of the international network CIDSE and in Rome the communication of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development with whom she continues to collaborate. Today she brings her experience to the department of socio-political advocacy campaigns and networking of Manos Unidas and coordinates the communication of the Enlázate por la Justicia network. Twitter: @migasocial

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