Throughout the Diocese of Buffalo, evangelization has taken on new life with the recent Catholics Come Home campaign, a media effort to welcome back fallen-away Catholics. However, evangelization must begin in individual parishes for them to continue thriving. One such person responsible for this Church mission is Adam Pasternack, director of evangelization at St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda.
Pasternack has followed a path that led him to both St. Amelia and Western New York. A native of Columbus, Ohio, and a 2006 graduate of the University of Dayton, Ohio, Pasternack was looking for cities and universities where he could get a job and continue his education. This search would lead him to his current job, although his interest in evangelization began early in his college career.
"In college, I was heavily involved in Catholic student ministry," Pasternack said. "A few friends and I founded a Catholic group on our campus, and that was my background in evangelization. We founded a group called Catholic Life. We did a bunch of different things."
It started with a few students who got together to pray. From there, it became a small Bible study group, and the group kept getting bigger. That experience helped Pasternack to grow in his own faith in God, and he ultimately looked for jobs that would let him pursue a doctorate in philosophy. When he saw the job posting for the St. Amelia position on catholicjobs.com, he knew it was for him.
"I came up here for an interview in October of 2012," he said. "I was sharing some of this experience with them, because it was on my application, and I think that's what kind of got their attention."
Pasternack found Buffalo to be more Catholic than Columbus, but this is a double-edged sword since many people do not seek to live their faith.
"They're not seeking a daily prayer life," he said. "They're not seeking to grow in holiness, to overcome sin in their life."
Pasternak said that some people do not see a need to be involved in the Church and going to Mass so he sees part of his job as engaging these people. Part of his job is staff formation which includes discipleship formation among parishioners at St. Amelia's and the challenge of reaching out to the wider community. The staff participates in formation, where Pasternack recommends books to the pastor, Msgr. Thomas Maloney, and the parish staff reads them.
Pasternack likened the Church's current situation to a struggling company, since both businesses and the Church share a similar hierarchy, structure and types of operation.
"Say tomorrow you woke up, and you were the CEO of this company," Pasternak said. "You would want to find out about the company and what is happening, You would read the last quarter statements, read the last 10 years and see how you've been doing. If you discover that the company had been going into the red, and going into debt and making bad decisions for 25 years pretty consistently - well, you might not know much about being CEO since it's your first day, but you know you need to do something different."
Sunday Mass attendance among baptized Catholics is highest for people in the 60 to 80-plus age. Pasternack said 69 percent of baptized Catholics in this age group come to Mass. The percentage falls among people 40 to 60 years old and falls farther among adults 40 and under.
"People aren't even getting married in the Church, anymore, not even from the pressure from grandma or mom and dad," Pasternack said. "Typically, they're not getting their kids baptized. I share all of this, though, because part of getting people to see the need for change is to look at it with honesty. Not to look at it to scare people, but if we do want to have a positive impact and live the Gospel as Christ called us to do, we need to do it with eyes wide open. We can't act like we're in a medieval Christian kingdom."
At the same time, however, there is promise. Directors of evangelization are convincing those at Church level that something needs to change.
"The energy and the money we spend at a parish, and the events, should be more intentional," said Pasternack. "We need to ask how this event, or whatever we're doing, is helping draw people closer to Christ and if it is helping people come to conversion."
Directors of religious education are also part of the evangelization process. Elaine Volker, director of religious education at St. Amelia's, coordinates with parents at meetings, and together she and Pasternack work to get the parents more involved in spirituality and renew interest in faith in their children.
"I'll go to the parent meetings and instead of just being parents going over the content in the books with their kids, we're trying to make them more spiritual so they actually have a place to encounter the living God," Pasternack said.