During his pontificate, St. John Paul II coined the term “new evangelization” and called on Catholics to take the Catholic faith to all people.
Meghan Cokeley, the director of the Office for the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, says that’s what she does while traveling around southeastern Pennsylvania.
Cokeley said evangelization has been the mission of the church throughout its history, but John Paul II placed a new emphasis on reaching those who have left the church or with no church at all.
“My office exists basically to respond to that call, to try to bring the modern world into an encounter with Christ,” Cokeley said from her office in Philadelphia.
Another part of her job is to discuss the World Meeting of Families, which will be held in Philadelphia in September and includes a visit from Pope Francis. Cokeley will be in the Diocese of Wilmington on May 18 to give a presentation about the meeting; she will speak to diocesan employees in Wilmington during the day and at St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Lewes that evening.
Her presentation has two purposes. The first is to discuss the logistics of attending the World Meeting of Families and what will be going on during the event. The second is about the preparatory catechesis, “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”
“We’re encouraging everybody to buy the catechism, to read it and study it. That catechism is the centerpiece of the evangelization,” she said.
The Office for the New Evangelization also is encouraging parishes to craft events centering on marriage and the family. Cokeley is one of a number of people in a speaker pool her office is coordinating. She has given approximately 25 of these talks thus far. Some parishes, she said, are holding retreats; others are bringing in speakers.
“Any way the parish can highlight marriage and the family in what they’re doing is very effective,” she said.
• Marriage resources
There are many resources available for parish leaders. Some of them can be found at www.phillyevang.org/wmof/#monthlythemes and www.worldmeeting2015.org/get-involved/prepare-parish/.
The Philadelphia archdiocese has been quite busy getting ready for the meeting and the pope’s visit. Cokeley said there is a palpable joy among those working on the event, and the excitement is not limited to archdiocesan employees or to Catholics.
“It’s not only the Catholic Church behind this,” she said. “Everybody’s jumping on board. It’s really been neat to see how the entire community’s getting behind this.”
Cokeley, 36, went to Catholic schools while growing up in Somerville, N.J., but she did not get serious about her faith until she was 18, when she went on a senior class trip to Italy that included a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi.
“We were a practicing Catholic family, but I wouldn’t say I was on fire until that experience,” she said.
She arrived at Notre Dame University that fall as a chemistry major but soon switched to theology, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. She completed further study at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.
Since then, she has worked as a parish director of religious education, a Catholic school theology teacher and at the evangelization center for the Paterson, N.J., diocese. She came to Philadelphia when the Office for the New Evangelization was established.
The office has three areas of interest, she said.
First, it reaches out to practicing Catholics through adult faith formation and helping people “fall in love” with the faith. Second, it develops ways to help inactive Catholics reconnect with the church. Lastly, it is involved in the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” initiative, which seeks to bring together believers and non-believers.
“The goal again is to help people fall in love, that our faith is alive and worth loving deeply,” Cokeley said.
As she prepares for the World Meeting of Families, Cokeley has not heard whether she will have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis, but she is hopeful.
“I think it would be the joy of every Catholic to meet the successor of St. Peter. That is why it would move my heart so much.”