Who is Jesus? That was the question posed to the dozens of people who gathered for Alpha at All Saint’s Parish, Liverpool, last Friday night.
Leaving their dripping umbrellas in tubs in the foyer of the parish hall, they entered to a warm welcome and a simple home-made dinner of tacos. This was the second night of Alpha for about at least 50 guests plus 20 team members. After a 30-minute video followed by a coffee and tea break, they split into small groups for a discussion.
At the same time, parishioner Quyen Le Phan was in the church next door, accompanying the group in prayer. With Carol Campanella, Quyen has committed to intercede for the evangelisation initiatives in the parish, and especially the Alpha participants.
“I really enjoyed it and learnt so much about my inner self and about the Holy Spirit.”
Time was up at 9pm, but as this journalist noticed, no one seemed in a hurry to go home.
Long-time parishioners Lyn Arancio and Mary Dalli joined All Saints’ Alpha pilot early this year and loved it so much they both volunteered to be part of the hospitality team this time and welcome fellow parishioners, people on the margins of parish life, and others who are simply curious to explore questions about life and Christianity.
“I really enjoyed it and learnt so much about my inner self and about the Holy Spirit,” Lyn told The Catholic Weekly.
For Mary, the appeal of Alpha is contained in the theme of the first week, ‘There’s more to life’. “To me I think there’s more to God than just thinking you go to Mass once a week and you’ve done your task; there really is,” she said.
“I just loved the retreat near the end of the 10 weeks, it was very powerful. I loved the way you’re welcomed each week, I loved everything about it.”
Leading Alpha at the parish is John Coppola, who says that its appeal is that it is “basically the kerygma, and you can’t argue with that”.
“I had done Alpha before, but I was still surprised at how powerful the pilot here was, even though most of it had to be done over Zoom,” he said.
“Tania Rimac [Alpha Parish Development Coordinator at the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation] came to our parish and she was amazing. We had a good team here to start with and she took the lead and held our hand the whole way through.
“The relationships that were formed in those small groups were very powerful, and the retreat really brings everything all together.
“I was a little bit scared coming here at first because I didn’t know if it was going to help my faith or not … But now I feel much more comfortable.”
“This is the laity stepping up and realising that they are the Church and it’s basically up to them to do the evangelising as well. It’s switching on lights for them, that this is what we’re meant to be doing.”
Alpha guests came in different ways. Tania Kristen said she saw flyers advertising Alpha after coming out of confession at the parish on Holy Saturday before Easter. “I saw it and thought, if that’s not a sign from God I don’t know what is, I’m going!”
Anjali Joseph was initially much more hesitant when she was invited to try Alpha by another parishioner Gina Fattal.
“I was born into an Australian-Indian Catholic family and so I’ve never really questioned my faith before and I was a little bit scared coming here at first because I didn’t know if was going to help my faith or not,” she said.
“But now I feel much more comfortable. It’s good to ask questions and get the right answers from different sources and learn more about the reasons behind my faith.”
Parish priest Fr Paul Monkerud told The Catholic Weekly that promoting Alpha in his parish is helping people to begin to talk about evangelisation and mission in ways that they haven’t experienced before.
“They will know that Alpha is connected with the fact that our church is moving in a new direction which is not away from our origins but is broadening our perspective,” he explained.
He plans to run Alpha at least three times each year, across different days and times of the week to give as many people a chance to experience it.
“Everyone at All Saints will become more conscious of what we’re trying to do here, but there will also be some people who really are transformed by this,” he said.
Fr Paul recognises that while Alpha is designed as an invitational tool to evangelise people outside of parishes or on the margins, it is also valuable for those already in the pews each Sunday.
“Alpha is a tool that we use for evangelising, but it’s a lot more than that, it helps us to build a culture of invitation, builds community and instils a leadership pipeline, helping people to grow as missionary disciples.”
“In the church when I grew up we were immersed in a Catholic culture which was imbibed by most people through regular Mass and devotions, sodalities, everyone went to Catholic schools and there were lots of religious sisters and brothers there. But that’s not what we have now,” he explained.
“The people who are very committed might be coming to church each Sunday but it’s not an immersed culture like it was. We have discover ways to bring people to come more often and more intensely into the Church’s life.”
Tania agrees. “Alpha is a tool that we use for evangelising, but it’s a lot more than that, it helps us to build a culture of invitation, builds community and instils a leadership pipeline, helping people to grow as missionary disciples.”
For more information about Alpha and support for parishes, contact Tania Rimac on 0416 436 245, [email protected]