Mission Chicago seeks to ‘jump-start’ evangelization

.- The Archdiocese of Chicago has taken on a mega-evangelization project in an effort to draw back lapsed Catholics and to re-energize practicing Catholics in their faith. It’s called Mission Chicago 2006 and, according to a New York Times report, Chicago is the largest archdiocese to organize such wide-ranging events focused on evangelization.

Fr. Robert Barron is heading the yearlong project, initiated by Cardinal Francis George. So far, Mission Chicago 2006 has included a three-day Festival of Faith at a convention center, a day of round-the-clock confessions with 70 priests on hand, a series of six “back-to-basics” sermons by Fr. Barron and the distribution of 2,500 motivational DVDs.

Thousands flocked last month to the Festival of Faith, which featured concerts and workshops in English, Spanish and Polish. And, at one parish, 400 people turned out this month for the round-the-clock confession initiative.

According to the New York Times, some of the efforts are taking a cue from evangelical Protestants, whose mega-churches are attracting some lapsed Catholics due to their ability to link Scripture with everyday life. They also use pop music, social events, the Internet, informal settings and small-group fellowship to foster a sense of community.

Mission Chicago is a response to the current reality facing the Church, namely declining church attendance, a priest shortage, the aftermath of sexual abuse scandals and the lure of other Christian denominations.

The Catholic population in the U.S. grew to 64.8 million last year, from 45.6 million in 1965, due in large part to growth in the number of Latino Catholics, which currently make up 39 percent of the nation's Catholic population. But the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass weekly fell to 45 percent in 2004, from 74 percent in 1955, and the number of priests has dropped by 27 percent.

Chicago is the third-largest diocese in the United States with 2.3 million Catholics.

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