New Jersey catechesis center answers John Paul II’s call to evangelization

3 mins read
Collegium Center, New Jersey
The Collegium Center for Faith and Culture in Camden, New Jersey, provides ministry throughout the Northeast. Courtesy photo

As a young priest, Father Timothy Byerley of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, found himself inspired by Pope St. John Paul II and his call for the New Evangelization. In response, two decades ago he launched the Collegium Center for Faith and Culture. The organization hosts lectures, symposiums, discussions, workshops, coffeehouses, pilgrimages, question-and-answer sessions with clergy and liturgical events as a means of bringing the Catholic faith to the culture. Although it is an independent, nonprofit religious organization, it operates with the blessing of the bishop of Camden, and many of its presenters are clergy of the diocese.

“We’re unique. We offer an array of catechetical and evangelization programs that parishes, because of limited resources, are not able to,” said Father Byerley, who is pastor of St. Peter Church in Merchantville, New Jersey.

Recent presentations include a series on prayer based on the writings of Father Thomas Dubay (1921-2010) and a photographic presentation of the excavation of the tomb of St. Peter in Rome. In June, Father Byerley led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land coordinated by the center. The center advertises its offerings through diocesan news outlets, parish bulletins and social media. Turnout varies per event and ranges between a few dozen to more than 100. But whatever the event, the desired result is “to integrate a spirit of joy and appreciation for the beauty of our Catholic faith,” Father Byerley said.

Participants come from throughout the Camden diocese as well as from the Diocese of Trenton and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, located across the Delaware River.

Purchasing a meeting place

In 2014, the Collegium Center purchased a meeting place in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. For the first 15 years of the center’s existence, Father said, they operated as vagabonds, holding meetings in whatever space was available. However, the center was able to raise sufficient funds for a home in a residential neighborhood, which today includes multiple meeting spaces, an office, library and kitchen. It is in a residential area where some of the homes have been converted into businesses.

Father Byerley believes the house is an important aspect of the apostolate, as it creates an environment “that is especially welcoming, and draws people who may not be willing to go to a church, but are willing to come to a home.”

Street evangelization

One effective aspect of the apostolate has been the training of volunteers for street evangelization. Street evangelizers go out in pairs to city parks, malls and public pathways and, with permission, set up tables and share the Catholic faith with those who pass by. Evangelizers bring a variety of giveaway items to assist them in this effort, including literature, rosaries, holy cards, medals and small crucifixes.

Brenda Quinn is the volunteer director of operations of the center and a street evangelizer. She previously volunteered for a home for unwed mothers, but felt a call to street evangelization. She was nervous the first time she took to the streets, but she quickly found there was a huge demand for her work. During her first day, she gave out more than 100 rosaries, received many prayer requests, answered questions and gave out cards with Mass and confession times at nearby parishes.

“It’s been amazing,” Quinn said. “Kids run over to me to say, ‘I love Jesus, too.’ A young woman took a selfie with us, saying, ‘I want to remember the angels God sent to me the next time I have a bad day.’ A man quickly walking by took a rosary, returning 45 minutes later to ask for a pamphlet explaining how to pray it. People tell us they’re going back to confession for the first time in many years.”

“When it comes to evangelization, the Gospel is the same, but you always have to be on the lookout for new means to convey it,” Father Byerley said. “There are many great apostolates out there looking for these new means in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call, and the Collegium Center is our little offering.”

Jim Graves writes from California.

Pope St. John Paul II on Evangelization
Pope John Paul II during an audience in St. Peter's Square in 1980
Pope John Paul II is pictured during a general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 1980. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

In the papal encyclical Redemptoris Missio (“The Mission of the Redeemer,” No. 33), Pope St. John Paul II outlines three situations for evangelization for today’s world:

1. There is the situation which the Church’s missionary activity addresses: peoples, groups, and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known, or which lack Christian communities sufficiently mature to be able to incarnate the faith in their own environment and proclaim it to other groups. This is mission ad gentes in the proper sense of the term.

2. There are Christian communities with adequate and solid ecclesial structures. They are fervent in their faith and in Christian living. They bear witness to the Gospel in their surroundings and have a sense of commitment to the universal mission. In these communities the Church carries out her activity and pastoral care.

3. There is an intermediate situation, particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a “new evangelization” or a “re-evangelization.”

Jim Graves

Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He has written for many different publications, including National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic World Report.