By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
COLUMBIA – As the diocese begins its year of evangelization in preparation for the Disciples in Mission program, the start of 2002 featured another visit to the Palmetto State from Paulist Father John Hurley, executive director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Evangelization.
A frequent speaker at gatherings across the nation, he was in the Midlands last Saturday (his 54th plane trip since the Sept. 11 tragedy) to address parish representatives and fill them with a sense of excitement as they prepare to embark on Disciples in Mission.
“Evangelization isn’t doing more stuff; it’s about reawakening our sense of mission,” exclaimed Father Hurley. “Evangelization is not an agenda item; it’s the agenda of the church.”
He asked, “Will people know the light of Jesus is upon you when they come into your presence?” In response, the priest said, “We need to become animators of the Gospel by getting a sense of what the Epiphany is all about.”
The Catholic Church in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina is growing not because of evangelization efforts, claimed the Paulist cleric, but because people from the Northeast are moving to a warmer climate.
“We have a lot of believers in the church, but not many disciples,” he explained. “We need to reawaken a sense of faith and mission in our members.”
Father Hurley discussed the excitement that adult converts bring to their parishes, in contrast to many of the faithful that have been raised in the religion.
“The challenge for us is that most of us are cradle Catholics. It’s a challenge to claim the faith for us. There’s always a cost for discipleship. It’s a challenge to let our faith come alive so others will know there is something different about us. Our environment sometimes keeps us from telling our stories.”
However, the evangelization director emphasized, “Faith is given to each of us by God, and it’s our responsibility to animate it. Put evangelization as an adjective in your vocabulary.”
Father Hurley told the three-dozen catechetical leaders in attendance that they don’t have to look for inactive Catholics as they’re in the pews every Sunday, and he called on listeners to eliminate excuses as to why other people aren’t at liturgy each week.
Continuing on that theme, the priest talked about an experience he had as pastor of Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. The historic building was brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act during his tenure there at no small expense, as ramps were built and an elevator was installed. Afterward, Father Hurley began to see numerous wheelchairs at Mass whereas prior to the renovations some people had told him there were no handicapped parishioners at the church.
“Eliminate excuses why people can’t be disciples. New parishioners can be a means for transforming parishes,” he said. “There are ways to involve more people, and many are waiting to be asked. We can’t underestimate the power of faith sharing groups, especially in larger parishes.”
In addition, the priest said the church in rural America has more of an opportunity to be a vibrant witness than in urban areas, and he recounted his experiences as a celebrant at Easter week services at Holy Spirit Church in Laurens last year as a reason for that belief.
“We do not have to surrender our identity. The Bible Belt supports religiosity. By making the sign of the cross at a restaurant, we identify ourselves.”
The theme of the in-service in the capital city was “Go and Make Disciples — Celebrating 10 years of Catholic Evangelization in the United States.” Prior to discussing in-depth that national plan for evangelization from the U.S. bishops, Father Hurley provided some background on the subject from other papal letters, “Evangelization in the Modern World” from Pope Paul VI in 1975 and “Ecclesia in America” by Pope John Paul II in 1999. The priest also cited the 1997 General Directory for Catechesis as an excellent resource addressing evangelization in the context of the mission of the church.
“Go and Make Disciples,” published in its entirety in the Jan. 3 edition of The Miscellany, lists enthusiasm, invitation and witness as three goals for increasing dedication to a new evangelization in America.
Concerning enthusiasm, Father Hurley said jovially, “We can’t resurrect the dead. Only Jesus can do that. But we can make them feel guilty.”
As to invitation, he took a serious tone. “If young people aren’t coming to our parishes, it doesn’t say something about our young people, it says something about our parishes,” he said.
And witness, according the evangelization director, doesn’t mean just looking at people in the pews, but also inactive Catholics and others with no faith community whatsoever.
“The harvest is rich out there; we just have to know where they’re coming from. Hospitality begins by accepting someone where they are. Why do we have to wait for crisis to bring about what’s already there? God’s love is unconditional. Where do we see the Gospel of Jesus place conditions on forgiveness?”
Father Hurley admitted that it’s tough to be a disciple today. “Disciples cannot be faithful if they are not focused and deeply fed. We need to be one step ahead of everyone else. We are constantly in a mode of formation.”
While acknowledging the challenges, he added, “Burnout has nothing to do with work. That’s when we lose our sense of mission. We need to put the Good News into every facet of our lives.”
Talking about the values of church life and what it stands for was recommended by Father Hurley, who asked the event participants to reflect on some closing questions, “Am I a disciple? If so, what are the implications for me? And, are we willing to band ourselves as a group to change the church in South Carolina?”
In concluding remarks, Paul Schroeder, diocesan director for the Office for Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation, mentioned six information nights that will be held across the state in early February and March concerning Disciples in Mission. All but one of the sessions will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The February gatherings are Monday, Feb. 4, at Prince of Peace in Taylors; Tuesday, Feb. 5, at St. Peter’s in Columbia; and Wednesday, Feb. 6, at St. Anne’s in Rock Hill. The March meetings will be Monday, March 4, at Precious Blood of Christ on Pawleys Island; Tuesday, March 5, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston; and Wednesday, March 6, at St. Peter’s in Beaufort. The Beaufort session will be held from 7 to 9:30 p.m.; Mass is being offered in the church prior to the event.