Champion for the New Evangelisation to speak at Conference

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Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Catholics wanting to evangelise should start with the people they know, urges Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart in the leadup to Sydney’s Parish Renewal Conference set for 19-20 August.

Archbishop Porteous, who has devoted over four decades to leading evangelisation initiatives across Australia, believes Catholics should focus increasingly on personal invitation in workplaces, neighbourhoods, family and friendship circles to help make new disciples for our Church.

Archbishop Porteous is a keynote speaker at this month’s Parish Renewal Conference, from 19-20 August at St Mary’s Cathedral precinct, alongside leading US writer and theologian, Dr Scott Hahn and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

The Hobart archbishop will address the topic “I Am With You Always: Living Christ’s Great Commission with Courage”.

The Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, which is organising the conference, said it was an opportunity for parishioners, parish leaders and clergy to be renewed in the Church’s mission of evangelisation to then strengthen their practical efforts at the local level through spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human formation in keeping with the Archdiocesan mission plan, Go Make Disciples.

In an interview with The Catholic Weekly, Archbishop Porteous said his own personal commitment to the New Evangelisation stretches back to shortly after his ordination as a priest in the Archdiocese of Sydney in the mid 1970s.

“It was Pope St Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation in 1975, Evangelii Nuntiandi that was a ‘lightbulb moment’ for me because, for the first time, a Pope had said in very clear terms that the Church exists in order to evangelise”, he said.

“It continues to be central to my ministry as a bishop and archbishop as well around the idea that evangelisation should really be at the heart and centre of the work of the Church”.

“That crystallised for me the whole idea of evangelisation being at the centre of the mission of the Church and being at the centre of my role and responsibility as a priest.

“It continues to be central to my ministry as a bishop and archbishop as well around the idea that evangelisation should really be at the heart and centre of the work of the Church”.

After formation at St Patrick’s Seminary in Manly in the early 1970s, then-Father Porteous served in many Archdiocese of Sydney parishes across three decades.

During that time, he pioneered public evangelisation initiatives focused on young Catholics.

In the early 1980s, ovals popularly known for hosting rugby or cricket – Sydney’s Manly Oval and Belmore Oval – were transformed into sites for evangelisation rallies helping engage thousands of young Catholics with the faith.

Complementing this, he was instrumental in establishing the Pastoral Training School (now known as the Summer School of Evangelisation), which, since 1984, has helped form thousands of young Catholics in their faith and in the pastoral skills necessary to contribute to the Church’s evangelising ministry.

Catholics should focus first on colleagues, friends and family when it comes to sharing faith, he says. Photo: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

After being named an Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney by Pope St John Paul II in 2003, Bishop Porteous built upon these early foundations, establishing an Office for Evangelisation in the Archdiocese of Sydney, CREDO.

The office led a number of highly successful initiatives including the Walk With Christ, an annual Eucharistic procession through the streets of Sydney on the Feast of Corpus Christi, which attracted over 13,000 people in June.

Archbishop Porteous said he was inspired to establish such public events at that time based on the writings of Pope John Paul II and on a deeper reflection on the fundamental message of evangelisation at the heart of the Gospel.

“Pope St John Paul II was very important to me because he spoke about the New Evangelisation whereby you are seeking to reignite a faith in people who have a background in the Catholic faith, perhaps from their childhood, but have stopped attending Mass regularly”.

“I was very convinced that while the Lord did preach at synagogues and in the precincts of the temple in Jerusalem, the bulk of His work was in the villages and towns.

“So I have long been very conscious that we cannot restrict our witness to just within the environment of a church, church hall or property. We also need to be in the marketplace”, Archbishop Porteous added.

“People are coming along to these evenings who perhaps are not strong in their faith and are trying to find their way and they’re in turn benefiting from conversations and discussions to lead them towards deeper questions of faith.”

Since his appointment as Archbishop of Hobart in 2013, Archbishop Porteous has implemented a number of evangelisation initiatives including a Walk With Christ procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi and an annual youth festival, Gracefest.

He said there are also some positive early signs from the Evangelium Project, an initiative begun in late May and which has expanded to cover 23 small hubs in parishes across Tasmania.

Participants come together with a small group of fellow Catholics for weekly one hour meetings in three modules, delivered over three months. Each module has a basic theme, centred upon the heart, the head and finally the hands which focuses on how we can share our faith with others.

Each session includes a short time for prayer and worship, 20 minutes of teaching led by Archbishop Porteous livestreamed from the cathedral centre in Hobart and also made available for viewing later on You Tube, a moment of personal reflection and 15 minutes of sharing in a group.

He said he is hopeful the Evangelium Project will encourage Catholics to become more confident in how they evangelise by supporting them along a personal journey towards missionary discipleship.

“People are coming along to these evenings who perhaps are not strong in their faith and are trying to find their way and they’re in turn benefiting from conversations and discussions to lead them towards deeper questions of faith.

“In some cases, ordinary parishioners are becoming evangelisers themselves through attending this program”, he explained.

The Archdiocese of Hobart is hosting an Evangelium Conference on 13 August in Launceston with the Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, Daniel Ang, a keynote speaker on ‘The Call to Discipleship’ and ‘Foundations for Spiritual Renewal.’

Archbishop Porteous said he has been following with close interest efforts to evangelise in the Archdiocese of Sydney, especially the Mission Plan, Go Make Disciples, with its emphasis upon empowering all Catholics to share their faith with others.

He said his own personal views around evangelisation have changed somewhat over the decades.

“While I’m still a great advocate of evangelising in the public square, I believe very much now that it’s through the personal relationships that you have in and around your life that evangelisation is most effective”, Archbishop Porteous said.

“It’s with your work colleagues, friends and family and it’s not so much about preaching or being overt in your evangelisation. But rather it’s just about looking for and taking up opportunities when they come”.

“My immediate focus is to encourage ordinary Catholics to have a missionary heart and have a bit of fire in your belly too, to want to share that faith with others.

“I believe that will be the most effective way that we can act as agents, drawing people back to faith and back into the sacramental life of the Church”.

Registrations are open online for the Parish Renewal Conference via the Go Make Disciples website and will close on 14 August: https://www.gomakedisciples.org.au/prc22/