New paths for the Church of the 21st century

Emmaus retreats, Ephpheta or Alpha dinners are some of the new methods that dioceses and groups are implementing for the evangelization of a secularized society.

Paloma López Campos-November 13, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
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In recent years, the fame acquired by the methods of new evangelization has been appreciated. These are experiences in which a group of people get together to promote special interior growth, formation and community life. Many parishes rely on these projects and organize them to reach more and more of the faithful.

There are many and very diverse group initiatives that mobilize people from the churches, fostering an environment of diversity in which both laity and priests are involved.

New methods of evangelization

One example of these experiences is Proyecto de Amor Conyugal, which organizes retreats for married couples and families with the aim of building stronger marital relationships, centered on Jesus Christ and faith. They follow a formation plan for married couples that is given in different cities of Spain, collaborating with parishes in family ministry. This itinerary is mainly inspired by the catechesis of St. John Paul II on human love, but it is not limited exclusively to the practical sphere, but its main objective is to transform marital relationships in order to establish them in the faith. The mission of the meetings organized on weekends can be summarized basically in two aspects: to discover and understand the treasure of the sacrament of marriage, and to help people live their marital vocation as it was originally intended by God.

Another new project that is growing in popularity is Effetá. It was born in Colombia and arrived in Spain in 2013. It is aimed at young people between 18 and 30 years old, and is based on a retreat whose main objective is the encounter with God through testimonies and experiences.

The Emmaus Retreat, founded in Miami and inspired by the Gospel of St. Luke, is organized in many cities of Spain. It is a project directed by and for lay people, although parish priests provide the necessary spiritual accompaniment. The Emmaus organizers define the experience as an encounter with God's love, mainly through testimonies.

Alpha is an initiative based on a series of sessions during which there is a meal, a formation talk and a discussion. Through these meetings we try to explore the fundamentals of the faith, asking questions and finding answers about the Christian life. It is characterized by the fact that the meetings are more spaced out and are not reduced to one weekend, but are extended over approximately eleven weeks with different sessions.

By their fruits ye shall know them

The testimonies of those who return from these experiences are often encouraging. People return home excited, but the Christian's life cannot be reduced to that moment of excitement. Does this make the new methods negative and unproductive? Not necessarily.

It is possible that all these experiences, in a negative aspect, lead to a "consumerism of experiences", in a constant search for "spiritual highs" that end up being extinguished once the disciple is faced with the reality of daily life.

In spite of this, the important question when examining these new formulas is the results: "by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:15-20). We cannot fall into the temptation of believing that after a weekend we can count on new disciples who can set out immediately. The Christian's journey needs constant accompaniment, during which individuals and communities can always be strengthened by their pastors, encouraged, corrected and guided. It is necessary to establish a follow-up, a care for the faithful on the part of priests.

Keys to pastoral care

The Spanish Episcopal Conference has suggested some guidelines for approaching both the social and ecclesial reality, helping pastoral care to face the questions that open up with the new methods of evangelization. Among these guidelines, the missionary spirit that should preside over all initiatives, trying to transmit the joy and certainty that faith in God brings, stands out in the first place. This eagerness for mission is supported by the laity, who are beginning to grow in responsibility and are becoming more and more involved in church activities.

The change in society to which these new methods must respond poses new challenges that the Episcopal Conference echoes, such as internal secularization, lack of communion, mistrust and social confrontation. These challenges are an opportunity for renewal for the Church and for society, fostering occasions for encounter, listening and dialogue.

The Spanish Episcopal Conference stresses the need to continue affirming, today more than ever, that "religious experience, faith in God, brings clarity and firmness to ethical evaluations; human life is enriched by the knowledge and acceptance of God, who is Love and moves us to love all people; the experience of being loved by God the Father leads us to fraternal charity; at the same time, fraternal love brings us closer to God". People should also be reminded that "Christian marriage, a yes forever open to life, as the fruit of love, is the promise fulfilled of the need and desire we all have to love and to be loved". New methods of evangelization can help to bring these messages to more people, announcing the Good News to all those who participate in these projects.

As the bishops point out, the present time, with its dynamism, demands an active missionary life that has its origin in the joy that mercy gives and presents the opportunity for new paths linked to a conversion that knows how to combine fidelity to tradition and the newness of our times.

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