In the City of Brotherly Love, the Catholic Church has faced some tough times. Schools have been closed, employees laid-off, and parishes shuttered. From 286 parishes in 2000, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is now down to 219 parishes.
Painful as this is, out of the process has come the Office of the New Evangelization. Meghan Cokeley, the Director, told us that even through the necessary restructuring, the parishes of the Archdiocese were responding to the call to evangelize. “I really sensed from the labors going on in the parishes to respond to the New Evangelization that [the Archdiocese] needed a formal office devoted to evangelization so that everyone would realize that it is something [the Archdiocese] is taking very seriously,” said Meghan.
After leading evangelization in the Archdiocese for two years prior, Meghan approached Archbishop Chaput in 2014 with the plan to form the Office of the New Evangelization. “I created the mission of the Office and proposed it to the Archbishop,” said Meghan. His response was “Absolutely!” and gave his go ahead. “One of his gifts, ” continued Meghan, “is that he is really supportive and enthusiastic about lay apostolate. When the laity approaches him with an authentic mission…he really does what he can to make it happen.”
The Office of the New Evangelization is devoted to serving parishes in two areas: parish-based adult faith formation and parish evangelization efforts to bring the Gospel to all corners of society. “My role.” said Meghan, “is to serve the parishes in their desire to respond to Christ’s mandate…Our laity has a deep desire; our people want to respond to this call…what we need is the equipment and formation to do that.”
One way Meghan works to fuel this desire is by discerning which national ministries are most Christ-centered and providing the greatest fruit; she then brings them to Philly so parishes in the Archdiocese have the opportunity to be formed by the best of the best. For example, in 2014 they had a “Discovering Christ” conference to train teams from parishes and this June they are running it a second time. “Once the word got out into the parishes, pastors were talking about the fruitfulness and how peoples’ lives were changing,” said Meghan. They’ve also been able to bring in groups like the Siena Institute, St. Paul Evangelization Society, and The Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate (a contemplative/active community helping people see the importance of the contemplative life in evangelization.)
In addition to connecting parishes with solid and fruitful resources, Meghan personally consults with parishes. She works closely with them by “listening to the specific dynamics of [each] parish and helping them discern what the Lord is calling them to do.” She helps them to come up with a basic understanding of how to move forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as well as offering free, orthodox formation from her extensive theological background having received her Ph.D. Candidacy from the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C.
Realizing that not all people are in the same place, Meghan stresses the importance for parishes to work internally on the inner life of the parish first; and she is seeing fruit from it. “[We need] to recognize and be very honest that the vast majority of practicing Catholics have not yet encountered Christ personally and aren’t necessarily in a living relationship with Him,” she said. “We have to be very honest about that before we start seeking outward…I have spent the first four years of my time here just focusing on that…but my sense is that we are making a turning point [towards] a more concentrated outreach to inactive Catholics.”
The foundation of all the diocesan efforts has been intercessory prayer. “As we are talking about the proclamation of the Gospel, ultimately for a heart to receive…Christ, it is a work of grace. We can be as eloquent as we want, but if the grace of God is not operative, it doesn’t matter because it isn’t going to penetrate and pierce the heart,” said Meghan. So, from her first day in Philadelphia, Meghan went out and recruited spiritual prayer warriors. “[I went] out to a couple nursing homes and a home for those dying of cancer, and I asked them to be our intercessors. I asked them to offer their sufferings for the work of the Office and I’ve also encouraged parishes to go do the same,” said Meghan. The prayer warriors can be those in adoration and those who are praying rosaries, but Meghan especially recommends reaching out to those who can give their gift of suffering. The Archdiocese offers a simple prayer for evangelization that parishes can print out or adjust to their needs.
As for advice to others who want to get things moving in their own diocese, Meghan again stressed the vital importance of prayer. “Ultimately, it is your own personal prayer life that is critical to everything. The Lord is very faithful in letting you know what He wants to do,” said Meghan. “He’ll put things in front of you…He’ll put a ministry in your lap that you never knew existed.” Everything we do has to be in accord with His Will and prayer keeps us in the necessary dialogue that without which, our efforts will not bear fruit. Bolstered by prayer, one can then really focus on discerning what is critical to spreading the Gospel. “Honing your discernment skills as far as what ministries are authentically fruitful and grounded in Christ,” said Meghan, “is going to change parishes and lives.”
To stay abreast of the work of Meghan Cokeley and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of the New Evangelization, you can check out Evangelize Philly online or sign up for their Evangelization Newsletter.