Before World Youth Day: The people at the International Center for Evangelization in Krakow, Poland, offered training for those interested in evangelization during the week before World Youth Day in July 2016, hoping to draw off the crowd of 3,000,000 pilgrims who would attend. And so they did! Over 1,500 young evangelizers came from 30 different countries came to this training. Songs of praise would be sung each morning and then a different Cardinal or Bishop would preside at a lively liturgy. The music ministry was composed of 50 young adults and the strings, horns and choir focused everyone on Christ the way good music can. A tent for Eucharistic adoration was also set up and free time for building relationships.
On the third day the formal evangelization training program began. Each evening would be the “kerygma” (basic message of the Gospel) would be presented and a different speaker from around the world would share their personal testimony to conversion to Christ. Then there would be a teaching on one aspect of the Creed. My responsibility was to explore the line of the creed that states; “I believe in Jesus Christ.” My focus was on the verb “to believe” which is not only an intellectual ascent to a belief but an active living out of a relationship with a person, namely Jesus and what that entails in our everyday lives. In regards to evangelization, while there is no perfect program, there is the perfect person… JESUS.
Mini-witness sites: After morning Mass the 1,500 would divide up to predetermined places in the city and share their witness stories with people they met, ask if anyone desired prayer, or begin a conversation about Jesus. There were five stages set up in the city at various locations in which mini-concerts were held and then people like myself, would share our testimony of God’s love for me through Jesus. As the number of pilgrims to WYD arrived, more and more people heard the good news proclaimed through music, prayer and personal testimony.
Lessons: Our assumption was that people coming to a religious event or even a Sunday service have not necessarily heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. This was re-enforced. Here are some additional things I learned from this experience:
- When planning a large evangelizing event, we need to train volunteers beforehand in how-to evangelize event participants (i.e. practical skills), in both person to person and communal ways.
- We need to combine proclamation of the Gospel message with people’s personal stories of how they have met Jesus Christ in a personal way.
- Never let an opportunity get away when I can share Christ in everyday life.
Allan F. Wright is Academic Dean for Evangelization, Diocese of Paterson, NJ, at St. Paul Inside the Walls, Madison, NJ. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University and the author of many books including, Jesus the Evangelist: A Gospel Guide to the New Evangelization (Franciscan Media).