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CCN/The Catholic Times: Million-dollar ad campaign hits streets with ultimate faith, life questions

By Colleen O’Connor
September 12th, 2007
Canadian Catholic News (www.cathnews.net/)

MONTREAL, Canada (CCN/The Catholic Times) – Alpha Canada has launched a national million-dollar advertising campaign. Billboards, buses, transit shelters and car flags across the country are asking "Is there more to life than this?"

"The thought-provoking question is geared toward people who might be wondering if there is more to life than a big house and car, is there more to life than what they are experiencing," said Shaila Visser of Alpha Canada.

Alpha is an ecumenical evangelization initiative. It began at Holy Trinity Brompton Anglican Church in the 1970s in London, England, and now has worldwide chapters.

The goal of the current campaign is to invite people from all denominations to attend an Alpha introductory session in their area this September. The session will include a meal, information about the program, followed by a talk that tackles the misconceptions of Christian life, entitled "Christianity: boring, untrue, and irrelevant?"

St. Thomas à Becket Catholic Parish in Pierrefonds hosted the English-language information in Montreal’s West Island Sept. 9. St. Thomas à Becket Church, which has offered Alpha for the last 14 years, also functions as the Alpha resource center for the West Island. This means the Alpha team, consisting of several parishioners, can help other churches set up the program, said coordinator Darroch Robertson. Msgr. Sean Harty, episcopal vicar for the English region of the Montreal Archdiocese, supports the program, Robertson added.

"The Alpha course was designed primarily for non-Christians, non-believers and people who have drifted away from the Church," said Daniel Bastien, Alpha regional director for Quebec.

The Alpha course, slated to begin in Canadian churches the last week in September, is a way for people to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed setting over 10 sessions. Each week, participants will share a meal and speak about diverse subjects. Themes include: “Who is Jesus?” and “How can I make the most of the rest of my life?”

"I think Alpha is so popular because the course provides a unique opportunity for real discussion around spiritual matters. There’s no preaching, and everyone’s opinions and ideas are valued," said Sally Start, director Alpha Canada.

Steve Barillaro says Alpha changed his life. Three years ago, he and his wife, Mary Ann, both 50-year-old Beaconsfield residents, decided to take the Alpha course offered at St. Thomas à Becket for a second time.

The first time around, the course was offered at the church. It left them lukewarm as it lacked the sense of community they experienced the second time in the cozy setting of Robertson’s home.

"The entire course is designed to be lighthearted, fun and a basis for very strong friendships to be formed," said Robertson, who has been a course leader for 12 years.

"It really hit me," said Barillaro about the impact of the course and the strong Christian friendships he developed.

The Barillaros went from holiday Catholics to active parishioners, and Barillaro decided he wanted to do something more with his life. He became an Alpha leader and is now an Alpha course administrator at Becket.

To date, more than 10 million people worldwide and about one million Canadians have attended Alpha.

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