The New Evangelization is taking root in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. People drive up to two hours, battling northern Virginia traffic, without a thought or hesitation, to attend weekly seminars at area churches packed with attendees. Like pilgrims on a journey, they keep coming each week to lectures sponsored by the Institute of Catholic Culture, a nonprofit educational institute dedicated to the re-evangelization of society.
Sabatino Carnazzo, with the charism of a modern-day St. Paul, serves as director of the institute, which he co-founded in 2006 along with Father Franklyn McAfee, former pastor of St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, Va. Carnazzo, once a California landscaper and nursery owner before his conversion, now nurtures souls. After graduating from Christendom College, in Front Royal, Va., with a master’s degree in systematic theology, he developed the institute while serving as director of evangelization at St. John’s. The institute outgrew the parish due to the overwhelming response, and in 2009, it branched out to serve the entire Arlington Diocese.
“Everyone is hungry for the truth. That is why the institute has grown,” says Carnazzo.
Christendom College taught Carnazzo the Christian way of life, rooted in the Church Fathers and the ineffable joy of knowing Christ.
“I came alive in that new way: the life of Christ and the desire to be able to share that with others,” says Carnazzo, who conducts some of the institute’s seminars. “I wanted to give people a taste of what I had received.”
Carnazzo discovered his natural ability to teach while in college. He hosted Thursday night Bible studies that were popular with his fellow students. People kept bringing their friends, and his own faith grew along with the size of the crowds.
Dynamic Speakers and Topics
Today’s institute lectures are deeply rooted in Catholic history, philosophy, theology and the Scriptures, building a solid foundation for catechesis.
The lineup of speakers is impressive: Father Benedict Groeschel, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal; Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, EWTN host and founder of Ignatius Productions; Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press; Robert Moynihan, founder of Inside the Vatican magazine; Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College; Christopher Check, executive vice president of the Rockford Institute; and many others. Topics include: “Modern Relativism and the Roots of the Modern Crisis,” “The Pope, the Anglicans and the Mass,” “Lives of the Apostolic Fathers,” “Living the Virtuous Life,” “The Catholic Church in Sacred Scripture” and “Salvation History.”
Catholic and non-Catholic attendance at the institute’s seminars has grown to more than 750 people at recent lectures. Everyone is welcome; the lectures are free and open to the public.
“We had seven Protestant ministers and between 20 to 30 Anglican faithful attend,” says Carnazzo about Father Fessio’s lecture on “The Pope, the Anglicans and the Mass,” which was presented last February. More than 700 people attended.
“This program gives a lot of theology, history and a lot of culture, and reconnects Catholics today with the patrimony — what is properly theirs and an essential element of the New Evangelization,” says Father Paul Scalia, current pastor of St. John the Beloved Catholic Church and frequent institute lecturer. “Once you know where you came from, once you know your family tree, then it is harder to get disconnected. It is easier to give a good witness to the faith.”
The institute has changed the lives of countless individuals in a positive way. For many, it has served to deepen their understanding of the faith. It has led others to join the Catholic Church.
“I have never learned so much about my faith as I have since I started to come to these,” says lifelong Catholic and supporter Cathy Flowers, who e-mailed the website address to her friends in California and Illinois. “They go to the website and listen to past talks,” she says.
The institute helps educate new Catholics as well.
“I studied history in college and was Protestant before that. One of the things from that perspective that I love about the institute is how it treats the Church as a historical entity — how the Catholic Church today is the same as it was 500, 1,000 or 2,000 years ago,” says Joe Patten, who joined the Church at Easter last year. “Protestantism is not Christianity as historically practiced; Catholicism is.”
Keith McCready converted to Catholicism three Easters ago and has been attending institute lectures for the past two and a half years along with his wife, who has begun again to practice her Catholic faith.
“A friend invited me to come,” says McCready. “I caught the bug.”
He is now a board member, helps with event logistics, and produces the audio downloads for the website.
The institute’s event e-mail list is now 1,500 strong. The superb speakers bring people back to learn more, and the events’ audio downloads are available on the website, InstituteofCatholicCulture.org. More than 200 hours of free lectures are available, which are viewed throughout the United States and the world. The institute has received e-mails from as far away as Kenya and Belgium.
“It has strengthened and broadened my understanding of the Catholic faith,” says Sandy Greeley, who joined the Church at Easter last year. “I believe it’s God’s work. I’ll continue to grow.”
That’s what the institute hopes.
Said Father Charles Aboody, an institute board member, “The intent is to get something like this in every diocese.”
Lisa Socarras writes from Annandale, Virginia.
Audio downloads of all lectures are available on the website.