Diocesan RE Office shifts focus to evangelization

Sharon Perkins is the new director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. (Photo by Shelley Metcalf)

By Peggy Moraczewski
Correspondent

Last year a cross-section of people from the Diocese of Austin began the task of developing a new Pastoral Plan for the diocese. Parishioners completed surveys, which were used in this process and, input was received from clergy, religious and laity, and after many meetings and prayers, a Pastoral Plan has been created. Now, the diocese is moving from formulation of this plan to its implementation.
A portion of the responsibility for implementation belongs to the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, where newly appointed director, Sharon Perkins, joins associate directors, Gustavo Rodriguez and Phi Le, as well as administrative assistant, Carolyn Martinez. Previously this office was the Office of Religious Education and Formation, but it has been renamed to sharpen its focus on the New Evangelization.
The term evangelization is not easily understood by many Catholics, Perkins said. It means helping people to experience an intimate encounter with the Lord Jesus. Catechesis (religious education), as seen through the lens of evangelization, builds on this initial encounter, deepens it and brings one to mature discipleship. The New Evangelization, a term first coined by Pope St. John Paul II in the mid-1980s, proposes the Gospel anew and invites all Catholics to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and his church.
“The diocesan Pastoral Plan asks the question of how we can share the Good News of Jesus Christ in a fresh way that invites, that forms community, and that more intentionally reaches out to people and places we have not reached in the past,” Perkins said. To this end, the staff of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis is discerning its most urgent priorities and how to help fulfill the Pastoral Plan, while simultaneously broadening the impact of current programs, in collaboration with other offices of the diocese. 
The current curriculum for catechist certification, built upon several years’ work of design and field testing, will continue to expand its reach and effectiveness. The office plans to provide even more tools for catechist training, especially in outlying areas. Not only catechists are invited to these trainings, Perkins said. Any adult, whether or not they are called to be catechists, is welcomed to participate at any course location; this is already happening in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Perkins, who is a native of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Theology from the University of Dallas and is currently completing her doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton in Ohio. She is a freelance writer for the Catholic News Service, and she is a freelance blogger for Women in the New Evangelization (www.womeninthenewevangelization.com). She and her husband Mike have two grown daughters and a son.
For the last six years Perkins served as director of Adult Faith Formation at Emmaus Parish in Lakeway, where she witnessed the community-building benefit of adult education within the parish. The parish flourished as the students not only learned together but also shared faith experiences and prayed together, she said. 
Catholic schools and parish religious education programs will not see drastic changes in the materials and content currently offered, but rather an even more intentional emphasis on a deeply personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Perkins hopes to see sacramental preparation and the building of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ intertwined and linked. 
“One should lead to the other. If you have a real encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, you fall in love with his church and participate in the sacraments. That is certainly my own story. Although I had been sacramentally initiated into the church as a youngster, I was an adult ‘revert’ to Catholicism before I even knew what the word meant,” she said.
Taking steps to accomplish these goals begins with relationships and with people serving other people, Perkins said. Thus the office strives to develop strong and vibrant partnerships with catechetical ministers throughout the diocese, especially at the deanery level.
Later this month when the Diocese of Beaumont holds their New Evangelization Conference, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis staff will attend. They want to experience the conference as attendees with the intention of offering a similar event for the Austin Diocese in the future, Perkins said.
The office will also offer a Publishers’ Day for Adult Faith Formation May 18 at the diocesan Pastoral Center. Pastors, deacons and parish directors of religious education are invited to this showcase of Catholic resource materials, especially for adults, offered in a variety of languages, by various publishers.
For more information about evangelization and catechesis in the Diocese of Austin, contact the office at (512) 949-2461 or carolyn-
martinez@austindiocese.org.

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