The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ
A fundamental theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the Church’s call to missionary activity. This activity is not simply the call of a few who will travel to distant lands. It is the call of every Christian: the call to participate in evangelization. Yet in our communities,workplaces, and homes, we often feel uncomfortable in this role, whether because the Christian message and lifestyle are counter-cultural or because we don’t really know or understand what we believe, why we believe it, or why we do what we do.
The Alpha Course is a relatively new program that is focused on reaching out to those who have never really heard the Gospel or experienced life as Christians. One of the side-effects of the program, however, is to re-vitalize parish life as new people are touched by the love of the Risen Christ and enter the community of faith. Long-time members of Christian communities, including Roman Catholics, also experience a revitalization of their faith as they see it anew through the eyes of the newcomers.
Fr. Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan and a regular contributor on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), talks about the fact that we as Catholics tend to focus on sacramentalizing: introducing our parishioners to the sacraments and helping them grow in their sacramental life. According to Fr. Riccardo, if we teach the people about the faith and the sacraments without introducing them to the person of Christ, it is like throwing seeds on concrete. Nothing will grow. Fr. Riccardo gives a comprehensive presentation of the Alpha Course, a program for evangelization, in a series of YouTube podcasts.
The Alpha Course has a simple method. People gather for a meal and a discussion, not just in a church setting but wherever people gather. The attendees are primarily people who are currently outside the Church. Over a ten week period the participants come to an experience of the Risen Christ as their loving friend and savior.
The Alpha Course began in a Church of England parish in London and is now widely used by many denominations. It is opening doors to ecumenical cooperation and discussion about the centrality of Christ in our faith. Over 1 million Catholics in Canada have been through the course. Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, Cardinal Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, and other Catholic leaders have praised the Alpha Course.
Rev. Mr. Steve Mitchell, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit, is the national director for Alpha USA. According to Deacon Mitchell’s statement on the AlphaUSA.org website “Alpha provides a safe, non-threatening environment where no question is too dumb and no perception is criticized. Barriers are broken down as we share a meal together and build relationships without regard to what someone believes.”
Alpha’s video includes examples from Catholic parishes around the world.