By Barb Arland-Fye
When his Evangelical Christian friends from high school invited Patrick to their youth group meeting earlier this year, I had mixed feelings. Would they try to convert my son? Would he feel like an outsider? On the other hand, I was relieved he wasn’t hanging out with a crowd that uses alcohol and drugs for recreation. And maybe he could learn something from his exposure to a denomination different from his own.
His experience proved to be beneficial, and struck me as relevant to the message Pope Francis preached during World Youth Day in Brazil. At the July 28 closing Mass, he told the throng: “Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole church and that includes you.”
Patrick attended youth group with his friends twice this past school year, and might have gone more often had he been invited earlier. But his friends didn’t extend the invitation until they had become more involved in youth group, he explained.
Youths and youth ministers welcomed him warmly to their meetings, which began with Christian rock songs performed live and with the lyrics appearing on screens overhead. “The way they play the music, it makes you get into it,” Patrick said.
The youth ministers recognized visitors, asked them to stand, and welcomed them. Middle school students went to another room while high school students stayed in the main center to listen to a youth minister give a message on a “hot topic,” such as homosexuality, using Bible passages to make his point. “Then they divide us into even smaller groups and then you dissect, you go deeper, to dissect the hot topic,” Patrick explained.
In one of the small group sessions he was asked about his beliefs as a Catholic. Even though Evangelical Christians disagree with or don’t understand some of our Catholic teachings, “the youth minister was really good at explaining what they believe in a way that’s understandable, and he accepted what I was saying.”
Everyone in the group listened attentively and in a nonjudgmental way. No one interrupted or talked while another individual was talking. “I was treated like everybody else. No one gave me the cold shoulder. It was a really good experience.”
His friendships continued outside of youth group. Patrick has even taken up fishing because one of his friends is an avid fisherman. While fishing they talked about many things, including passages from Scripture and occasional rejection by peers.
Pope Francis acknowledged the challenges of evangelization in his homily for the closing Mass at World Youth Day. Catholic News Service reporter Cindy Wooten observed that the pope “knows how daunting it can be to recognize that each Christian bears personal responsibility for sharing the Gospel with his or her actions and words, but Jesus told the first disciples and tells disciples today, ‘Be Not Afraid.’”
Patrick said his Christian friends live up to the ways of Christ. “I know I still have someone to talk to even after the summer, someone to turn to, who has a Christian background. My friends have faith in their life, so they know what to do. They try to do the right thing.
“It’s just nice to see fellow Christians, even though they’re not Catholics, share some of the basic beliefs we do.” He said they understand how much it means that Christ came to save us, and gave his life for us.
Evangelization begins with personal relationships, friendships with people from different faiths and walks of life. Patrick said he feels more comfortable, more willing to share his faith as a result of his friends’ example.