Institute equips Catholics for New Evangelization

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the New Evangelization asks Catholics “to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize.” Echoing a 2010 request made by Pope Benedict XVI, the bishops seek a “reproposing” of the Gospel “to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.”

In response to this request, Father Hezekias Carnazzo launched an educational outreach program that became the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC). The program offers free seminars in Catholic history, philosophy and theology, with a strong emphasis on the study of sacred Scripture. Presentations initially were live and coupled with social opportunities, such as dinner or a gathering against the backdrop of a beautiful outdoors setting in Virginia, but they increasingly are being presented and viewed online, available to Catholics worldwide free of charge. The institute’s programming has been a quick hit, Father Carnazzo said, and via the internet, the apostolate has developed a worldwide audience.

The institute’s success comes at a critical time, Father Carnazzo said, as there is a pressing need for its work.

“The majority of Catholics don’t know their faith,” he said. “They’re not biblically literate, and they don’t know basic doctrines. They’re called to evangelize the world, but they’re not equipped to do so.”

An awakening

Father Carnazzo was a nonpracticing Catholic who operated a California landscaping and nursery business. His study of the Church Fathers, such as St. Polycarp and St. Ignatius of Antioch, brought him back to the Church with a new-found zeal. He closed up his business and headed east to Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he received a Catholic liberal arts education.

“I kept asking myself while I was there: Where was this all my life? Why wasn’t I taught this? It was my impetus to start the institute,” he said.

He was ordained a priest for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (which is in full communion with Rome) in 2016, “as I wanted to do the work of Christ full-time.” Father Carnazzo is married and has six children, as married men are permitted to be ordained in Eastern Catholic rites.

Mission of the institute

Visitors to the Institute of Catholic Culture website (InstituteOfCatholicCulture.org) will see a calendar of events, some of which the public is invited to attend in person. All are available via live streaming. March 2018 presentations, for example, include an online webinar presentation on St. Joseph on March 20, and Father Paul Scalia will present “My God, My God: The Temptation in the Desert and the Cross of Christ” at St. Agnes Church in Arlington, Virginia, on March 25.

Featured Talks from the ICC Library
The following seminars are a selection of the free content offered by the Institute of Catholic Culture on its website (InstituteOfCatholicCulture.org/library).

Additionally, the ICC has archived for listening more than 800 hours of past presentations, including those made by scholars from EWTN and Christendom College, and also from Alice von Hildebrand, Father Mitch Pacwa, Msgr. Charles Pope, Joseph Pearce, Christopher Check and Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin. Special ICC projects include the Magdala Apostolate geared toward the education of religious women and the Sophia Symposium, which is designed for catechists.

While donations are gratefully accepted, all materials are free. Father Carnazzo, who is executive director of the institute and is assisted by three staff members and many volunteers, noted that, “Jesus never charged for what he gave. He never sold tickets to the Sermon on the Mount.”

‘A life-changer’

Teresa Cotter of Alexandria, Virginia, is among the people who have benefitted from the free content provided by the institute. Cotter saw an advertisement for a presentation in the Diocese of Arlington’s Catholic newspaper and decided to go.

“I first went on June 16, 2012 — I remember the date because it made such an impression on me. It’s been a life-changer,” she said.

She went to St. Ambrose Church in Annandale, Virginia, expecting a mostly empty church hall, but she turned a corner and discovered that “the place was totally packed. People were having wine and hors d’oeuvres and truly enjoying life. From that moment, I’ve been hooked.”

She and her husband, Dan, have joined ICC’s board of directors and twice have accompanied Father Carnazzo on pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

“Father wants to evangelize, but does it in a way that builds community,” Cotter said. “I’ve seen many people favorably impacted by the institute, who, in turn, bring others.”

Listening to the “phenomenal” presentations has given her the opportunity to have “a real Catholic liberal arts education, which has made me appreciate my faith more.”

She describes Father Carnazzo as “Christ-centered, who wants to bring people to Christ. That sums him up.” In turn, he has led her to want to evangelize, “as I want others to have what I have.”

Amy Smith is a convert to the Catholic faith who started participating in ICC events in 2013. While her initial catechism classes offered her the basics when she entered the Church, as the years passed, “I was craving in-depth instruction, which the institute offered.”

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Although she is from Annandale, she has been spending a lot of time in the Midwest recently to care for her elderly parents. The ability to access ICC presentations online has allowed her to continue her instruction.

Father Carnazzo invites more Catholics to get involved with the ICC, as the need is great.

“We need soldiers on the battlefield — parents prepared to teach the Faith to their children, priests prepared to deliver good homilies and sisters prepared to share the Faith in their work,” he said. “We need vibrant Catholics who can lead others to develop a deep love for Christ.”

Jim Graves writes from California.