By Chris McCarthy
Mention the term ‘revival,’ and Catholicism is not necessarily among the first images that come to mind.
St. James Church aims to change that perception.
This Wednesday though Saturday (March 16 -19), the parish will host a tent revival in the Cash Saver parking lot located in front of the pond off North 3rd Street in Gadsden.
Sponsored and organized by St. James Pastor Fr. Jose Chako and the Knights of Columbus, the evangelization event will begin at 6 p.m. on Wednesday-Friday and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. The event will feature speakers, music and witnessing.
According to co-organizers John Larkins and Bob Roberts, the event’s two-pronged purpose is extending an invitation for fallen-away Catholics to return to the church while introducing non-Catholics to the unique graces provided by the church.
The local chapters of the Knights of Columbus and the Legion of Mary will be on hand to provide literature and sponsorship.
On Saturday, Palm Sunday service will be held at 7 p.m.
“I’m hoping that we can do these four days with a touch of mercy and humbleness and a sincere effort to call people to Christ,” said Roberts. “We don’t want to come across as proselytizing just for the sake of proselytizing. We want people to understand that Catholicism is not a cult, and that the church has a lot of mercy and a lot of forgiveness to offer.”
Wednesday’s speaker will be Dr. David Anders, a Catholic Catechist who is host of the weekly EWTN program, Called to Communion. Dr. Anders was raised a Presbyterian and became Catholic after studying Reformation history.
Thursday’s speaker is John Martignoni, a leading Catholic apologist who is founder and president of the Bible Christian Society, which is dedicated to explaining and defending the Scriptural foundations of the Catholic Faith. He is the host of the weekly EWTN program Open Line.
Friday’s bilingual speaker will be Fr. Alex Steinmiller, the president of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School in Birmingham. Fr. Alex worked for 25 years in the public school system in Detroit, Mich., and San Antonio. Tex.
Saturday’s speaker will be Tom Peterson, a former advertising executive based in Roswell, Ga., who is the founder of Catholics Come Home.
Martignoni, Dr. Anders and Fr. Steinmuiler both have spoken at St. James in the past.
“We don’t want to make protestants feel that they have to believe everything we say,” said Roberts. “If we can touch one little nerve in their body to start thinking about what we’ve said, then we’ve accomplished our mission. Our other goal is to bring fallen-away Catholics back to the church, and that includes many in the Hispanic community.”
“This is a 98 percent Protestant state, so we were thinking of a way that would resonate with our fellow Alabamians,” added Larkins.
Roberts pointed out that he researched and could not find any evidence of a prior Catholic revival event, so St. James might very well be breaking new ground in church history in the United States.
“I was reading the Gospel one day, and I found that Jesus commanded his Apostles to go out and minister to His flock, and I’m sure that 2,000 years ago they ministered under some sort of tent,” said Roberts. “So we’re just taking over where they left off. This is about following the true message of Christ and what we are expected to do to spread that message. If you look at the Gospels, Jesus told it like it was. Somewhere between 2,000 years ago and today, many Catholics have forgotten what their duties are.”
Larkins noted that an organization out of Detroit, Mich., called St. Paul’s Street Evangelization, provided inspiration for the event.
“These guys are very simple-minded and authentic, and they have reached a lot of people on a national level preaching the gospel,” said Larkins. “It just shows that people are hungry for Jesus. We want to stress that although Catholic people – including the Pope – fall into sin, the Catholic Church does not. We may have a price to pay here on earth, but Christ has absolved us of our sins.”
Larkins and Roberts completed a course that certifies them as evangelists in the Diocese of Birmingham. The duo takes to the streets with an information booth on many Friday afternoons as well as during the monthly First Friday event on Broad Street in downtown Gadsden.
“We want to share the good news that Jesus is the mechanism for us to save our souls,” said Larkins. “The best thing we can ask for is for people think and ask questions.”
For more information about the event, call 256-485-2029.