The Year of Faith has prompted new efforts for the New Evangelization that are already showing great promise.
On Divine Mercy Sunday in April 2012, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception — who are based in Stockbridge, Mass. — introduced Hearts Afire (AllHeartsAfire.org).
"The program is contributing to the New Evangelization by bringing Catholics together in small groups to experience Jesus’ mercy and the tender love of our Blessed Mother," said Marian Father Michael Gaitley. His books 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration and Consoling the Heart of Jesus are the basis of the program.
A parish-based program, Hearts Afire is spreading across the country like a proverbial wildfire. Already, upwards of 1,000 parishes are familiar with it, and thousands of adults and teens have gone through it over the past year.
There are already 200,000 copies of 33 Days to Morning Glory in print.
"Everyone gets so moved by it — they’re telling everyone else," said Kelly Wahlquist, assistant director of parish evangelization for the Association of Marian Helpers, where she oversees and manages the program.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., recommended the program to his flock. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., invited everyone in the archdiocese to join him in the 33-day program, culminating with Mass and consecration on April 8, this year’s feast of the Annunciation. Hundreds joined.
"We’re watching hearts being lit on fire for Christ, and the natural thing to do is share that," said Wahlquist. "The first thing Our Lady did was share that joy of the Annunciation in the Visitation, going in haste.
"The truth is: When you invite Mary into your heart, she comes with her (Divine) spouse, the Holy Spirit, who is the principal agent of evangelization. When they realize this relationship with Mary is life changing, they want to share it."
Although the program can be done individually, Father Gaitley says the community aspect is important: "A key part of the New Evangelization is building up communion in parishes — the communion of the body of Christ."
Parishes like St. John Neumann Church in Sunbury, Ohio, know the benefits. Just ask Father David Sizemore, the pastor. "Hearts Afire," said Father Sizemore, "opened up our entire parish to grow in deeper knowledge and love of Mary — and through Mary to a deeper relationship with Christ."
The parish used the program in small groups, and on this past feast of the Immaculate Conception, 400 people out of a parish of 1,200 made the consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Parish costs are minimal (less than $50). Father Gaitley’s talks are all available on DVDs.
"Mary is the key to the New Evangelization. She is the star," reminded Wahlquist. "Bring people to Mary, and she will bring them to Christ."
There is also the Theology of the Family Project (TheologyoftheFamily.com), which is launching after being tested in parishes in Arizona and Texas. This comprehensive parish program — developed by Joseph Atkinson, associate professor at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington — is meant to recover the biblical vision of marriage and the family in today’s culture.
Atkinson explained the emphasis on "helping people to be open to God’s grace, so that they can experience hope and healing in their families."
"We have to capture what is God’s vision for the family, and then open ourselves to his grace," he said. "Once we begin to learn these truths and begin living them, we heal; and when we heal, we experience freedom."
The first step focuses on hope. "Hope leads to healing, and healing leads to the genuine freedom we all long for," he said. "But freedom comes only in the truth. When you learn the truth of God’s vision of marriage and family and live it, you then experience the freedom you have always longed for."
Atkinson is no newcomer to healing families with God’s truth. In fact, one of the bases for this Theology of the Family Project was his highly popular television series on EWTN. With the EWTN series on DVD as the foundation, he has expanded the topic into a book, website and leader’s guidebook, as well as a guidebook for priests and resources, to support the 13-week program. Costs are reasonable, too.
The program is the right fit for the New Evangelization, because, as Atkinson pointed out, Blessed John Paul II said, "As the family goes, so goes the nation and … the whole world in which we live."
"People really loved it," said Mary Caprio, who acted as the coordinator for the program at one of the test parishes, St. Michael Catholic Church in Houston. "For some of them, the domestic church was a new idea; they never heard of that before. When we teach the family is the domestic church, people can see beautiful analogies in their own lives."
Dozens of people attended the program. Caprio said that older couples said they wished they had these teachings when they were young, but now they are pleased they can bring them to their grandchildren. And younger couples, and even many single Catholics, participated as well.
Getting ready for a launch later this year is a brand-new project from Leonardo and Patti Defilippis of St. Luke Productions, who have given the faithful great theater for years that proclaims the faith, including the feature film Thérèse.
They are readying a new live theatrical production titled Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy, which is planned to open on Oct. 5, 2013, the 75th anniversary of the death of St. Faustina Kowalska (StLukeProductions.com).
The Defilippises appeared with Father Gaitley and Father Joseph Roesch on the EWTN coverage of this year’s Divine Mercy Sunday, the message of which Christ gave to St. Faustina in the 1930s.
The married couple will tour the United States and Canada with the show that is based on the life and message of the saint who was canonized in 2000 by Blessed John Paul II as the first saint of the 21st century.
"I’m hoping it will be a service that will lead to the road to Emmaus," said Leonardo Defilippis.
He, too, sees the play as part of the New Evangelization — because it is bringing the truth of faith to a world so in need.
"Our world doesn’t recognize Christ, but he’s always present. I hope this (play) will be a moment of real recognition, and people recognize Christ in their lives. Faustina recognized him all the time, and he wants to be recognized. I’m praying this will open the doors so people will realize that there are no barriers to Christ. Not even sin is a barrier, in the sense that he is waiting for them (to return to him)."
Like the other new programs mentioned, this one also has a share in a statement Benedict XVI once made: "Beauty is the seal of truth."
Defilippis sees a strong connection between the play and Benedict’s words: "Faustina sees a beautiful Christ. Even the image itself doesn’t do justice (to his beauty). It is the precursor of the beauty that awaits us — that beauty in terms of our faith in Christ."
"On the road to Emmaus, the disciples recognize him in the beauty of his words, the remembrance of the events," he continued. "Faustina constantly sees the beauty of Christ. She sees him in his torment and his ugliness and sees him like the Shroud of Turin, but then he transforms into the beauty of who he is (as) the infant Child, the risen Lord, the Sacred Heart — coming completely alive.
"That beauty is an echo of the promise of where we’re all being led: back to paradise, to union with the Creator, who made us out of love. "
Benedict was re-echoing how beauty will attract people to the Church, Defilippis reflected, because God is the creator of beauty.
"As artists, we’re trying to create a beautiful moment for people to have an epiphany of truth, so they can have that awakening," he said. "The same thing happened on the road to Emmaus — they are actually recognizing God himself. That is a sign of the New Evangelization."
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.