By Amanda Murthy
In the first days of his pontificate, Pope Francis addressed the College of Cardinals asking them to “find new ways to spread the word of God to every corner of the world.”
Alpha in a Catholic Context Coordinator, Lorraine McCarthy, notes that many people these days are turning away from their faith and that we as a Church urgently need to find ways to reach out to them.
Mrs McCarthy says this needs to be done in a way that relates to people immersed in our modern culture.
Mrs McCarthy spoke exclusively to The eRecord during her visit to Perth, where she facilitated training sessions for more than 90 participants from seven parishes who are interested in running Alpha.
The training was held at Rockingham Parish Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Thursday and Friday April 12 and 13 and at Morley Parish Infant Jesus Church on Saturday 14 April.
Alpha, says Mrs McCarthy, is a tool for evangelisation, designed to introduce people who are disconnected from Church to an initial proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, known as the ‘Kerygma.’
Each session has three parts which includes a meal, a talk via video and a small group discussion.
Some of the topics discussed during the 15 sessions include “Why did Jesus Die?” “How can I have Faith?”, “What does the Holy Spirit do?”, “Why and How do I Pray?” and “Does God Heal Today?”
The course was developed in the Anglican Parish of Holy Trinity Brompton, in London some 30 years ago. Since then, more than 27 million people have undertaken Alpha across numerous Christian denominations, in more than 116 countries.
Catholic Parishes all over the world have used Alpha, including in the United States of America, France, Spain, Malaysia and Mexico.
In 2017, more than 200 Alphas were run in Catholic Parishes in Australia.
“People need different sorts of faith formation experiences in different stages of their faith journey,” Mrs McCarthy explained.
“The Church does a lot of catechesis, assuming that people have already heard an initial proclamation.”
“Alpha embodies the Kerygma really well – it guides participants to meet people in the local Parish, to get to know Jesus better, be introduced to the Holy Spirit and to make a decision to invite God into their lives in a new or deeper way.
“After Alpha, people are often hungry for more catechesis and to be introduced to deeper teaching on the sacraments and Church doctrine,” she said.
Mrs McCarthy added that Alpha has been used effectively in Parishes before the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
The Alpha Youth Series, targeted at 12 to 18 year olds, has been used in numerous Parish youth groups.
“People are drawn to Alpha because it presents an opportunity to ask questions about faith in a welcoming, non-judgemental and fun environment,” Mrs McCarthy noted.
“Over the shared meal and the small group discussions, great friendships and trust develop, which invite and equip participants to deepen their relationship with God.
“I really want to encourage Catholics to live their faith as a community, to be proud of their faith and create a culture of invitation and evangelisation in our Parishes, so that we can reach those in our families and wider community who have are no longer a part of the Church,” she added.
Mrs McCarthy reiterated what Pope Francis said in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
“How many important things unite us! If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another. It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.”
“Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelisation is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him
“Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.
“It is not by proselytising that the Church grows, but by ‘attraction’.”