Doing His work: that all may know Christ

27 May 2009

By The Record

The Catholic Enquiry Centre celebrates 50 years of bringing people around Australia to Christ.


The CEC’s Marita Winters.


Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the Catholic Enquiry Centre since its genesis 50 years ago.
The methods of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s national faith promotion outreach organ may have changed over the decades, but its message remains the same:
“When engaging in works of evangelisation, it is important to prepare prayerfully, to act only with love, to be open to being guided by the promptings of the Spirit, and then, once we’ve done all we can do, to rely on the Spirit of God to finish in a person any work of evangelisation that we have started.”
It operates according to the words Jesus spoke just before he ascended to the Father: “Go tell them of my love. See, you can do it, not by your own strength, but because My Spirit will be with you and working through you when you do it, just as I will be with you until the end of time.”
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the CEC, founded to reach out beyond the Church in Australia to provide an opportunity to all who are not Catholic to learn about and understand the Catholic faith.
During its 50 years the CEC has sent its introductory course to over 200,000 people of all faiths and of none, and has been a key instrument for evangelisation across Australia.
Many lives have been touched by the work of the Centre and it has contributed to an increased understanding about the Church in the wider community. After World Youth Day 2008, the CEC received hundreds of calls from people with renewed interest in the Church – some renewing an old curiosity, some actually wanting to join.
Many, CEC director Marita Winters said, were deeply touched by the powerful re-enactment of the Stations of the cross through the streets of Sydney, even just from watching it on TV.
Originally, the course offered by the CEC consisted of 20 lessons, sent by mail, free of charge and in strict confidence. Advertisements offering the course were placed in newspapers and magazines. At the end of the Course they were offered a letter of introduction to a local priest.
Flowing from the Second Vatican Council, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was revived and the role of the CEC developed to reflect this change.
Advertisements are still placed in newspapers and this is a source of many enquiries, as was the $20,000 15-second advert that CEC ran twice daily for a month (CHECK) on Channel 9 after World Youth Day 2008. It also booked advertising space across Australia during the Christmas-Boxing Day-New Year period last year during Hollywood hits The Bee Movie, starring comedian Jerry Seinfeld, and Oscar winning period drama Atonement.
These advertisements, showing images of Catholic culture like simple family life, the Eucharist and a WYD youth image, were a departure from previous campaigns that featured images of the face of Jesus. Mrs Winters said that Jesus has proved difficult to market. “I don’t know how, on a small postcard size, you can get across the personality of the Saviour and Son of God; so we moved away from that for our series of campaigns,” she told The Record.
Instead, they focused on something more familiar to those who had not encountered Christ yet. “Families are integral to faith, and in the space of 15 seconds you can’t say a lot, but it’s about people, and we were trying to show that people can have fun and be religious at the same time,” she said.
“Faith is multi-dimensional – family, worshipping as a community, receiving sacraments individually, by including weddings and baptisms in the advertisements we’re saying ‘you may have been to one of these events where you’ve intersected with the Church, but there’s so much more than that.”
The CEC’s renewed campaigns to help people find the Church where they don’t expect to find it – on the television and in newspapers (at least in a positive way) – have had varied levels of success, but it’s often just planting the seed, and the Spirit does the rest in time.
She said that Sunday papers seem to have a bigger shelf life, so people may cut the ad out of the paper and leave it lying around, and come back to it later. Television adverts have a more immediate impact. Mrs Winters said people often called within five minutes of the advertsement appearing.
But it was not all positive feedback from putting the Catholic faith in the public domain. Mrs Winters said that, especially after WYD08, there was some backlash, with people ringing up, saying ‘how dare the Church push its views on the public’, which surprised the CEC director.
Some calls, when persevered with, merely reflected a deeper yearning for something more substantial in life, while others were just rants. “We take people where we get them,” Mrs Winters said. “Some are saying ‘I want basic information about the Catholic faith’, some already have a relationship with Christ through another denomination and want to know what Catholics do,” she said.
“Others say, ‘I want to be part of a Catholic community, who’s my local priest’. That’s encouraging, as they’re not just calling out of curiosity, they’re actually taking the next step.”
The material that CEC currently sends out is designed to provide an introduction to the Catholic faith and enquirers are encouraged to build on what they learn by seeking formal instruction in the faith in the context of their local parish community. From its very beginnings, the CEC has depended on the support of lay people for the funding of its apostolate. Their prayers for the Centre have also been a great source of grace for those enquiring about the faith.
To mark this milestone, special Masses are to be celebrated across Australia to thank those who have supported the Centre over its 50 years of evangelisation. Archbishop Barry Hickey will celebrate the Mass in Perth at St Joachim’s Pro-Cathedral in Victoria Park on June 2 at 10am.
All supporters of the Centre, especially associates, donors and sponsors, are invited to join in the 50th Anniversary celebration.
For more info and to RSVP phone 1300 4 FAITH (1300 432 484) or
Above, Marita Winters. Right, The Catholic Religion, which contains the full text of twenty lessons which made up the first course for enquirers offered by the CEC which give a clear, systematic coverage of the fundamental teachings of Christ and His Church.