Knights say the order’s evangelism training program is badly needed at the church
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Knights of Columbus leaders see Catholic men’s fraternal organization as a powerful engine for evangelism, and to jump-start that engine, they are developing a program to train members on how to evangelize.
“We think the church desperately needs it,” said Damien O’Connor, vice president of evangelism and faith formation for the Supreme Council of Knights, headquartered in New Haven, Connecticut. .
“We are all called to evangelize,” but few Catholics are comfortable with that mission, O’Connor told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. “We take it for granted that everyone knows how to share faith.”
So the Knights are developing a prototype training program—the Sons of McGivney Evangelization and Discipleship Training—which was unveiled at a weekend training retreat March 17-20 at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville. .
“McGivney” in the title refers to Blessed Michael McGivney, who founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.
About 30 Knights from across Tennessee and 10 Supreme Council staff attended the training retreat, led by Sean Pott, Knights director of evangelism and education.
Prior to working for the Knights, Pott served as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS, for 10 years, including six years working on college campuses and four years on the training staff.
The Knights training program draws on features of the model used by FOCUS to evangelize students.
During the retreat, the training program was divided into three stages: ‘Earn’, ‘Build’ and ‘Send’.
The “Winning” phase focuses on building relationships and includes “leading and presenting Jesus Christ…through friendship and sharing the gospel,” according to the training materials.
“One of the best ways to tell people why they should meet Jesus is to tell our own stories,” said Jonathan Reyes, senior vice president of communications and strategic partnerships for the Knights, during a presentation at the training.
In the “Build” phase, Knights will help others build and grow in faith so they can share it. The local unit of the Knights is the councils. This structure provides a place where “building can happen organically because of the sibling relationships that already exist,” Pott said.
And in the “Send” phase, Knights will share the gospel with others as missionary disciples. “We received a gift, and in appreciation, we’re sharing it with the world,” Pott said.
“If we empower a handful of Knights and train them to evangelize their peers, it will grow authentically and profoundly,” Pott said.
“Every human heart yearns to know Jesus Christ. This is how we are made,” Reyes told the training participants. “There is nothing that will satisfy the human heart other than a relationship with the Lord.
“We don’t pretend to convert people,” Reyes said. “It is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
“Evangelism invites people to encounter Jesus Christ and make the decision…to follow Him,” Reyes said. “That’s all it is. … It’s an invitation.”
Fear is one of the biggest obstacles that keeps people from evangelizing, Reyes said. “Fear of not being loved. Fear of rejection,” he said. “Our Lord has been treated much worse.”
Knights who receive training are encouraged to begin by conducting a small group Bible study among their council members, Pott said, “to nurture relationship with God, grow in relationship with one another and multiply spiritually.” .
“Each of us who has encountered Jesus Christ is called in some way to be an evangelist,” Reyes added. “We hope that as more people come to know Jesus, they too will become evangelists, and that’s how the gospel spreads.”
But efforts shouldn’t be limited to Knights councils, Pott said. “We want Knights to engage with their pastors and their parish.
“We want them to proclaim this in their council, and it will eventually become their parish, and then in the community,” said Tennessee State Deputy Fred Laufenberg, a parishioner at St. Assisi at Fairfield Glade.
Supreme Council staff are still developing the program and hope to use the weekend in Nashville to polish it before using it in other locations, O’Connor said.
The Knights have been working to increase their focus on faith formation for several years, beginning under former Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and continuing under current Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly.
“It’s not new. It sounds new, but it’s not,” said O’Connor, who pointed to the Constitution and Knights Charter laws, which state, “The purposes for which said society is formed, always conforming to the Catholic values and doctrine, are: … through common worship, charitable works, meetings and rites of initiation, to form its members in Catholic faith and virtue; …to unite members in their Catholic identity and the practice of their Catholic faith.
“We’re going back to what we’re supposed to do,” Pott said. “This evangelization is not new, it goes back to our roots.
The focus on faith formation has been extremely well received, O’Connor said, “meaning our brethren have been waiting for this kind of message and are happy to engage in it.”
The Knights chose Tennessee for the first training retreat because the Tennessee Knights have already been five years in an initiative to make the organization more Christ-centric and focus on faith formation for its members.
“We’ve laid the foundation that this is what we’re going to do,” Laufenberg said.
“Growing up, faith was part of your life,” Laufenberg said, recalling praying the Rosary and Stations of the Cross regularly with his family and fellow parishioners.
But participation in such practices has faded in recent decades and more Catholics are leaving the church, he said.
The goal is to “bring Catholic families back into the church, celebrate the faith, receive the sacraments, to stop this influx of people and families who no longer see God as an important part of their family life,” said Laufenberg.
The long-term vision of the program, O’Connor said, is that if a Catholic man wants to know how to be stronger in faith, “people will automatically say, ‘It’s easy. They are the Knights of Columbus.’ »
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Telli is editor of the Tennessee Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.