Sparking the flame of evangelization

Lindsay Steele
Thomas Asama and Luz Martinez evangelize on the streets of Iowa City during Newman Catholic Student Center’s Nightfever event last year. During the event, students took prayer requests and invited passersby to the event.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

A prelude to Pentecost, the Vision 20/20 Convocation opens today with 450 delegates, 20-plus presenters and dozens of worker bees looking to begin revitalization of the Catholic Church in southeast Iowa. Responsibility for this revitalization is not limited to those attending the June 6-8 convocation on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

“The task of evangelization is the task of every single Christian. This isn’t simply my point of view,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said. “Jesus gave this mission to his disciples prior to his ascension, and it has been incorporated into the mission of our diocese: ‘As a Eucharistic community, we live out Jesus’ call to go and make disciples of all nations and to love God and neighbor.’ The delegates will bring what they have learned and experienced back to the parishes to initiate, coordinate and inspire the parish evangelization efforts.”

“Every baptized Catholic must share the Gospel message with others in words and deeds,” said diocesan Superintendent of Schools Lee Morrison, who is serving multiple roles at the convocation. “As participants we must not go home and file our notes away or fear to act.  We must take the energy from the convocation and the Vision 20/20 activities and act. … Share the good news of Jesus Christ and the reason for our joy.”

Delegates serve as a spark that gets the flame going, said Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City and a convocation presenter. “It’s important for us not only to appreciate the richness we have in terms of our faith and community of faith but to invite and welcome others to be a part of that richness,” he said. “That requires not just being happy with who we are and what we have … but to be willing to stretch ourselves and share that with the community at large. Sometimes the community at large doesn’t look like us and think like us and we need to acknowledge that. But it’s good to invite them regardless.”

Michelle Montgomery, who serves as the youth minister at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, is excited to be a delegate. She believes that all Catholics need to do some form of outreach to those who have left the faith. “How can we make them feel welcome, to have a sense of belonging, and lead them to come back home to their church?”

She added, “I personally think that we do not do enough outreach to everyone, to reach out to those who are hurting or who feel they don’t belong to our Catholic Church anymore because of hurt feelings, priest abuse or abandonment by the church.” She believes that youths and families, however they are configured, are more accepted in the world. But they may feel that their church does not fully accept them, and “they feel they need to turn away from this faith.”

Being led by the Holy Spirit to a new Pentecost in our diocesan church will be challenging, Bishop Zinkula said. “We are talking about a paradigm shift and changing the culture in terms of how we ‘be and do’ church. It is very difficult to wrap one’s mind and heart around that, to allow ourselves truly to be led by the Holy Spirit. It is a challenge to get out of our comfort zone, and to go from maintenance to mission. It is a challenge to, as Pope Francis puts it in ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ transform into a church which ‘is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.’”

Morrison believes that fear is the greatest challenge to being led by the Holy Spirit to a new Pentecost in the church. “The fear to stand out in an increasingly secular world, a world that contains so many mixed messages and so many activities that conflict with the expression of our faith. The fear that we don’t know enough about our faith to evangelize. The fear that we will be asked to profess our faith outside the walls of the church, publicly.”

Fr. Juarez sees fear as a challenge from a different perspective. His presentation focuses on hearing the voice of immigrants. As part of the presentation, an immigrant mother from Honduras and her son will share their story. “I’ll be talking about the narrative of immigration and the current political narrative of immigration being presented to the nation and how that is not necessarily the narrative of people of faith or of the church,” Fr. Juarez said.

Fear of the other keeps people paralyzed and so insular “that we become archaic and outdated and useless,” he said. The antidote to that fear is “sharing our stories so that we’re able to know each other better and appreciate not only the similarities but the differences. That is the emblem of our nation, E Pluribus Unum: “out of many, one.”

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