As the new director of evangelization for the San Fernando Region, Katie Dawson is no stranger to having conversations about Christ.When the 55-year-old was a teenager, she had a crisis of faith and coped by talking about it with other Catholics. Her mom, a convert to Catholicism, encouraged her to ask God to reveal himself to her and to keep going to church. After 18 months, Dawson had a series of encounters and conversations with people of faith that caused her to change her life.“That dynamic of conversion that I experienced as a teenager has always informed my perspective on serving in the church and in my relationships,” said the married mother of five grown children who has worked part-time as the director of evangelization and formation at St. John Eudes in Chatsworth since 2004.“It’s great working with people as they explore and deepen their faith,” said Dawson, who earned an MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2009 and graduated with a BA in religious studies/history in 1979 from Loyola Marymount University.Since 2008, she has been on the region’s evangelization committee formed in response to the archdiocese’s 2003 Synod calling for a New Evangelization (Initiative I) among its six priorities. “Our role is to advise [San Fernando Region Auxiliary] Bishop Gerald Wilkerson on steps we should take to have a more evangelizing church,” explained Dawson.The committee has been promoting a vision of evangelization based on the four pastoral priorities established by the bishop:—Seeking out and drawing in the unbelieving and the unchurched.—Fostering life-long discipleship and spiritual growth.—Discernment of spiritual gifts (charisms) and vocations.—Equipping and supporting extraordinary apostolates.After two years of prayer and discussion on ways to implement the pastoral priorities, the committee proposed and hosted a “Making Disciples” workshop led by representatives from the Colorado-based Catherine of Siena Institute in October 2010, at Bishop Alemany High School. The event drew 800 attendees from several parishes.“We were pretty happy,” said Dawson, who noted that about 400 people came a few months later for the two-day follow-up in early 2011. Since then, the evangelization committee determined that the establishment of an official “office” of evangelization for the region would provide a structural help for its 56 parishes. After the committee was informed by Bishop Wilkerson that there were no funds available to staff such an office, Dawson volunteered to work out of the regional office in Mission Hills every Tuesday for five hours to help provide evangelization resources and encouragement to pastors and their representatives. Those duties include helping parishes sponsor Making Disciples workshops in their individual parishes. In May, she coordinated an evening event on evangelization resources exploring possibilities for incorporating an evangelizing perspective into existing programs. She stressed that the vision of Making Disciples is not about adding new programming, new events or new processes. “We’re simply going to have a new [visionary] lens, and we’re going to ask a different set of questions when we encounter people coming to church, returning to church or coming to church for the first time,” said Dawson. “When somebody shows up to register at a parish, we want to help them identify what their experience of God is and help them to find more ways to experience him.” For example, instead of concentrating only on objective questions, like “Where were you baptized?” parish staff with an evangelizing perspective would indicate their interest in the prospective parishioner’s subjective experience of God and inquire where they see themselves on their journey of faith.“And then we want to propose a place where they can further that,” like a ministry or an opportunity within the parish, explained Dawson. She noted that the parish secretaries at St. John Eudes are aware of these evangelizing questions as are staff from parishes who attended Making Disciples, such as Our Lady of Peace in North Hills, which sent 120 representatives to the 2010 event.“The ideal would be that everybody in the parish becomes increasingly aware that this is the [subjective] question we’re asking,” said Dawson. “We want to give people that perspective. It’s a paradigm shift and it takes overcoming some cultural baggage that says faith is a private matter.”Dawson believes that the new evangelization “suggests that the starting point is an encounter with Christ and being able to share our experience of Christ with someone.”“It’s not about an argument,” she adds. “It’s about a conversation and sharing a great gift that you have received: the gift of faith and the gift of that relationship with God.“I think a lot of times Catholics feel very defensive about responding to questions or challenges. And we don’t need to be defensive; we simply need to listen.”The first step of evangelization, she continues, “is to truly listen to the person we’re talking to, and to hear what their experience has been,” which may include stories of being wounded or offended in the past by churchgoers. People may also express doubts about the existence of God or say that faith isn’t reasonable.“We need to be able to say: faith has a reason that goes beyond science, beyond empirical reasons — it’s reasons of the heart, which is not to say faith is not reasonable, because it is,” said Dawson.“I think we need to be prepared to propose Christ to people,” she stated. She added that she hopes the work of the evangelizing committee will have a ripple effect throughout the region. The committee is working on a number of initiatives, including planning a “Called and Gifted” workshop series at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Santa Clarita early next year, developing an evangelization curriculum for the upcoming “Year of Faith,” sending Making Disciples trainers to hold evangelization workshops in parishes and launching an evangelization website this fall with resources for parishes, staff and volunteers.“Pope Paul VI said that evangelization is the reason for the church,” noted Dawson. “My hope would be that people would increasingly understand that and that they would be energized by their own relationship with Christ to share it with the world.”To learn more about upcoming evangelization initiatives — including the Called and Gifted series at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Santa Clarita, on Thursday evenings Jan. 10-Feb. 7 — call Katie Dawson at the San Fernando Region Office, (818) 361-6009.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0824/sfdawson/{/gallery}