VANESSA Comninos is so fired up for evangelisation that she’s walked away from her dream job as an optometrist to work full-time in her Brisbane parish.
The young wife and mother-of-two has taken on the role of evangelisation director in Our Lady of the Southern Cross Parish at Springfield, west of Brisbane, and she couldn’t be happier.
Not only is she following a passion, but she can see she is part of something special drawing more and more people to hear and follow the message of Jesus Christ.
Mrs Comninos said a big part of the parish’s success was due to the popular Alpha and Divine Renovation programs.
Popular programs help parish
Alpha is a program for exploring Christian faith at informal gatherings where there’s food, talks and “good conversation”, and Divine Renovation is a guide for creating vibrant, mission-focused parishes.
Having had her own experience of being disillusioned in another parish where she did not feel welcomed, Mrs Comninos said she realised Alpha “could really be the answer of bringing people back (to the Church)”.
As she learned more about Alpha and Divine Renovation, she became more aware God had given her “a heart for making disciples and bringing the Good News to as many people as I can, or we can”.
Mrs Comninos said she “realised that as a baptised Catholic I was just as responsible of making disciples as our priests and our nuns, and that God empowers and equips us to be able to do that job, and then in turn we need to empower and equip others to do that”.
“After realising that, I realised that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me and lives in you and lives in everyone, and that we shouldn’t be afraid of it; we should step into and speak about our faith and share our journeys and share our faith stories, and also invite people to our communities and invite people to our churches and invite them to attend Alpha.”
A recent motivation for her was “a staggering statistic” she read, that 41 per cent of all Australians had never had a spiritual conversation.
Opening up a spiritual conversation
“That’s, number one, surprising but at the same time it’s so promising because so many people haven’t heard the news about Jesus or, if they have, they haven’t actually been brought to a place where they can actually experience Jesus or be filled by the Holy Spirit,” Mrs Comninos said.
“And the very last thing that Jesus said to us before He was received into heaven – Matthew 28:19 – is ‘Go, make disciples, … baptise and teach …’
“So, it’s His great commission; it’s what He calls us to do; and once you know the Good News, once you’ve experienced God’s extravagant and radical love, you absolutely want other people to experience it too.
“I really believe that my role in the parish is to bring people to Jesus but, not only that, it is to grow people so that they are able to do it themselves – it is to equip them and show them how, and create the culture and the environment that makes them feel safe enough to be able to do that.”
Mrs Comninos is passionate about that.
“God’s incredible love, His prodigal love, His extremely extravagant love for us, is what drives me – feeling His love and His peace and knowing that this is something that everybody can have, if we just open up our hearts to Him,” she said.
She’s also passionate about Divine Renovation.
“I wish that every parish could embrace the principles of Divine Renovation,” she said.
“The keys of Divine Renovation ministry are: evangelisation, leadership and the Holy Spirit.
“If every parish could focus on those three keys and lean into the power of the Holy Spirit and embrace those principles, I really believe that our Catholic churches would be growing and thriving and being more missional and outward-focused.”
In Springfield parish, the Alpha program is a way of evangelising.
“It’s creating an environment where people can be brought the Good News but also (is) equipping and empowering parishioners on being missionary disciples,” Mrs Comninos said.
“And that also ties in very beautifully with leadership.
“Leadership is all about how we influence those around us, and every single one of us has the capacity to influence people.
“So Divine Renovation focuses a lot on growing leaders and growing people in their giftedness so that they can use it for the mission of the Church.”
And that’s what Mrs Comninos has seen happening at Springfield.
“In terms of evangelisation, I’d say our parish is growing and that the people that are un-Churched or de-Churched that are coming to our parish for the experience of Alpha or just to experience Church because they’ve heard about the parish, has increased.”