Faith formation in Loudoun County

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Almost 200 people gathered in the parish hall at St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg Jan. 18 to learn about the New Evangelization and kick off Loudoun County's newest evangelization and catechesis program.

Three parishes in the county - St. John, St. Francis de Sales in Purcellville, and St. Theresa in Ashburn - have teamed up with the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC) to offer a lecture series aimed at helping Catholics learn more about their faith. Lectures include lessons on history, Scripture, philosophy, liturgy, literature and other topics.

"The institute puts the whole salvation story in context, going to events like this with other people hungry for more spiritual food and knowledge and of how to make our faith relevant," said Marie Steele, a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales.

ICC has been hosting lectures at several parishes in the Washington area, but only recently moved into Loudoun County.

"They were so far away before. I didn't want to have to go over the mountain," said Aggie Smith. "I've been so excited about (ICC) since I first heard about it. When I heard they were in Loudoun, I said, 'I'm in.'"

James Blankenship, director of religious education at St. Francis de Sales, kick-started the program.

"I recognized a problem: There's a lack of adult catechesis. In general, that's a problem the church faces, but particularly out in Loudoun County," he said. "I approached the other DREs and said, 'Let's do something for our parishes out here in the nether regions of the diocese.'"

So he called Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo, ICC's executive director.

"He said, 'Why don't you go to Purcellville?' I choked," Carnazzo said. "I had promised God we'd go through any door He opened."

The DREs began working with ICC to put together a program for the Loudoun County parishes. The speaker series rotates between three parishes, and all three parishes advertise and promote the events. In the fall, the parishes had a "tester schedule," Blankenship said, and about 100 people showed up for the first talk. After that, a consistent 100 or 115 people came.

"For a new catechesis program, that's a whopping success," Blankenship said.

All the speakers give their talks live at the parishes, and though most of them are streamed live online, participants are encouraged to attend in person.

"The idea is the faith is passed on through relationships, through actual contact between people," Blankenship said. "To get the whole curriculum, you have to hop between the parishes. People actually do that, and it builds a nice little community there."

In his talk about practical ways to evangelize, Carnazzo said personal contact is crucial.

"Does your neighbor know that you're a Catholic and that you love God?" he asked. "We will change the world by actually meeting the person God put in your life."

Carnazzo hopes the evening's participants will remember the people they sat with and say hello when they see those faces again at Mass. That "hello" could lead to a phone call, and then to a friendship.

"So many people are suffering because they feel a lack of faith," he said, "but when they're together, one person's lack is made up by someone else's faith. They rejuvenate each other."

Ray Knight, a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales, joined the church in 2013 and said he's experienced something like this.

"When I first came into the church, I was overwhelmed at feeling the presence of Christ. I can feel the same energy from people here. A sense of hope that the fires are going to get lit and something's going to happen," he said. "Change in the world is going to come from the Catholic Church."

Tillotson is a freelance writer from Front Royal.

Attend a talk

Upcoming ICC talks in Loudoun County include:"Walking with God: Ethics in the Catholic Tradition" by John Cuddeback at 10 a.m. Jan. 31 at St. Francis de Sales; "Confronting Attila the Hun: The Life of Pope St. Leo the Great" by Christopher Check, 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at Our Lady of Hope (dinner included), "Sacrificing to God: An ICC Lenten Retreat" by Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 28 at St. Francis de Sales, and "A Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine" by John Love,at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday March 4 and 11 at St. Theresa. A full schedule can be found online.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015