Lessons I Learned from World Youth Day by Allan F. Wright


dscf3436Before 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

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How to Connect With a Saint

DSCF6790When John was a teenager he wanted to go to dances. There was one problem.  He couldn’t dance.  So he asked his older sister, Claire, to teach him. That was a disaster. Next he watched people dancing and slowly imitated one step after another. The church also watches a person’s whole life for steps in the dance of faith.  This discernment process helps us find models of heroic virtue and holiness, like St. Teresa of Calcutta or St Therese of Lisieux. These saints become portraits of discipleship. And if we befriend a few, they can become mentors, who help us grow spiritually.

SPEAK WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY: The road to holiness is also traveled by all who die in Christ, the great cloud of saints described in the Book of Revelation (7:9-17). In addition to canonized saints, there are people who lived ordinary lives with extraordinary love, like Juan Correa, a friend, who studied chemistry in order to teach in his homeland of Colombia. He had unusual gifts of kindness and humility that brought many into our faith-sharing group. As graduation approached, he confessed strong fears about the political dangers that Christians faced in Bogota.  Still, his love for his people drew him home like a magnet.  Just two years later Juan contracted polio.  As he lay paralyzed and dying in an iron lung, his one wish was to listen to Scripture all day.  Within weeks of his death, two of his sisters who were experiencing high-risk pregnancies were healed.

HIGHWAY SIGNS TO GOD: But what help can saints be to you? Below are five steps for discovering your own answers. First, search out saints who can inspire you to draw closer to God.  St. Therese of Lisieux (France, 1873-1897), strove to be a child before God and wrote, “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth.”  And so she has.  Claire and Harry asked her daily intercession during World War II.  They promised God that if Harry returned safely from fighting in the Pacific, they would name their first daughter Therese.  And so they did. Second, choose a saint who points toward love of others, like St. Teresa of Calcutta who talked about spending heaven rescuing people from dark places.  Teresa can help you become more aware of the dark places that your family and friends inhabit. Then with God’s strength, you can learn how to be a physical and spiritual first responder. Third, learn ways to share the underpinnings of holy service through watching the way a saint explicitly shared about Jesus. Tiny St. Francis Cabrini, a cardiac disease sufferer, donned a hard hat to descend into coal mines and talk about Jesus. (Her shoes are pictured above.)

friends with sts SMBUILD FRIENDSHIPS WITH SAINTS. Fourth, one of the dangers of living in a fast-paced world is the temptation to ignore the saints. But the effort to search out a few as friends is well worth it, since they can be like older brothers and sisters, or co-workers in faith. Begin by reading short bios online at websites like Catholic Online or this brief listing. Here you can acquaint yourself with “your spiritual neighborhood” and choose one or two to learn about in-depth. You might also want to read, “Making Friends with the Saints.”

Our fifth and finally suggestion is to speak with your new friend often about the place where your lives intersect. For example: St. Teresa of Calcutta was once asked by a reporter what is wrong with the church. Her reply was, “Me and you!” So a regular church-goer might pray, “St. Teresa, I have done my best to pray and to serve others. How can I be the problem? Help me listen to God in new ways. Help me be more compassionate. Help me be a humble servant in my parish and in every-day life. Amen.” And then finish by speaking with Jesus, the love of your saintly friend’s life.

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Mini-Olympics Quiz: Are You an Athlete?

gymnastic rach copy

First, choose a statement.

Yes. I jog, step or whatever gets me points on my Fitbit or keeps me in shape.

Sort of.  I was when I was a kid.

Yes. I run in the rat race.

No. I am a couch potato cheerleader.

No. I exercise my brain (or knife and fork) instead.

Now, choose one of the above statements about your spiritual life.

Why? because the Bible challenges us to be trained athletes in living and sharing our faith, no matter what our physical and spiritual condition. The Letter to the Hebrews challenges us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (12:1) But how do we train to be spiritual athletes?

  1. Consider heavy lifting. Open that big Bible. Call out loud to the Holy Spirit. Stand, then kneel, then sit, while you talk to Jesus. Spend a little time in God’s presence every day.
  2. Use those fingers to text, email or call a friend who is willing to share faith with you. Consider driving to a bible study or a Mass, because training works better when you gather with other spiritual athletes. And while you are at it, walk around the parking lot a few times.
  3. Leave your house each day on a search for someone who needs mercy, encouragement, or just a smile. Spiritual muscles atrophy unless we put them in the service of loving those around us.
  4. Take you spiritual skill set out in public, not to compete but to move in the Spirit, who synchronizes our talents. Open your mouth and your heart to share words of faith like, “GOD bless you!” or “I know God wants to help you!” or “May I pray for you right now?” Here is an example.
  5. Move toward the prize of eternal, pulsating life in God. Heaven is not a static, boring fairy tale. It is a dynamic participation in all the energy between Father, Son and Holy Spirit that has already spilled out onto our world and sweeps us up into a new creation.

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians sums up your call to be a spiritual athlete, “Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”(3:13, 14)

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