TAKE a table neatly set with a tablecloth, a candle and coffee cups, plus a supply of tea and coffee, and perhaps some wine, and your parish has the basics for joining a form of renewal achieving remarkable success in the Church.
It’s about creating a relaxed and welcoming cafe-style environment where Catholics can explore their faith, or rediscover it, in an enjoyable and non-threatening way in small groups.
This is a model that has struck a chord with parishes in England and is being taken up with enthusiasm as it is being introduced to dioceses around Australia.
CaFE, which stands for Catholic Faith Education, as well as for the style of the gatherings, originates from Catholic Evangelisation Services (CES), based at All Saints’ Pastoral Centre in Westminster, England.
CaFE is described as ‘a flexible process for the parish designed to create discipleship, community and evangelisation’.
One of its secrets is the use of videos to stimulate small group discussions in programs that lead to renewed enthusiasm in faith.
The CaFE concept is based on the successful formula of using videos to allow Catholic parishes to develop a culture in which people discuss and share their faith in an informal, cafe-type atmosphere, and gradually come to a deeper relationship with God and with each other.
CES training and development director, Jenny Baker, and Paul Marambos, who is responsible for international development, have received keen responses as they introduce the concept to parish and faith education groups in dioceses around Australia.
They are on a tour which has included Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Broken Bay, Wollongong, Parramatta, Brisbane, Toowoomba and Wagga Wagga dioceses in recent weeks.
Launched in March last year, CaFE is in high demand around England, with more than 600 parishes requesting the program.
Ms Baker attributed the success firstly to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
‘Without Him we wouldn’t be here,’ she said.
‘The reasons it seems to be successful (are), firstly, there is definitely a hunger and an openness at this time.’
CaFE’s other advantages included its flexibility and the fact it can be run by lay people under the guidance of the parish priest.
‘Firstly, it helps Catholics to be enthusiastic about their faith and opens them up to what we’ve received and what riches we have in the Church,’ Ms Baker said.
‘Secondly, it helps in the development of small groups in the parish …, and thirdly it brings a fresh vision and tool for evangelisation.’
CaFE was suitable for any parish, Ms Baker said.
‘All you need to set up CaFE is a small group of people committed to being welcoming and encouraging, and to being committed to pray ‘ and that underpins everything, because without prayer CaFE won’t be successful.’
Comprehensive training materials are available to parishes so there is no necessity to attend a special training day.
Videos are available for three modules ‘ Knowing God Better, Exploring the Catholic Church, and Catholics Making a Difference ‘ which each include seven or eight talks.
Ms Baker said CaFE was an experience of community.’That’s what we’re hoping people have ‘ the experience of discipleship, community and evangelisation,’ she said. ‘Those things are key.’
The third module builds on the spirit fostered in the previous two, and promotes discipleship, encouraging participants to consider what action they may be able to take in living their faith. The module encourages Catholics to make more of a difference through their ‘works, witness and words’, and considers practical options for doing that.
‘We hope people will look out at what’s happening in the world and see what a difference Catholics can make,’ Ms Baker said.
There have even been examples of people coming into the Church through CaFE.
Mr Marambos said one woman brought her child along to an English parish asking for her to be baptised and the priest suggested the woman come along to CaFE.
She accepted the invitation and, during the program felt able to confide that she herself had never been baptised or part of a Church. She is now becoming a Catholic.
A university student in Adelaide has had a similar experience. He wasn’t a Catholic or Christian before taking part in a CaFE program. Now he is enrolled for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Ms Baker said many adult Catholics felt their faith formation ended as a child.
‘For many, (CaFE) is a remembering or reawakening of what they received in baptism,’ she said.
CES has evidence of people becoming more involved in Church life after their CaFE experience.
Mr Marambos has seen its effectiveness first-hand through running the program in a prison.
‘It worked well because most were searching and questioning life,’ he said.
CaFE opened the prisoners to the possibilities of God’s love, forgiveness, the Word and hope. It also helped foster a sense of community.
‘One guy wanted a copy of the program in Spanish, which we didn’t have. Now he’s translating it for us. He wanted it for his Ma.’
Ms Baker said the aim was for CaFE to be a stepping stone for Catholics.
‘What we hope is that people will use our resources and move into other things ‘ Bible study, lectio divina (a meditative reading of Scripture leading to prayer) … and people will end up not needing video resources.
‘Our heart really is Church and we want to see people understand and embrace what they have as Catholics.
‘We do have it all ‘ we just need to unwrap it.’