BY KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — The Holy Spirit and the evangelization of the American culture will be the key to changing the world, Paulist Father Bruce Nieli told the crowd at the 2005 South Carolina Catholic Charismatic Conference.
The priest brought his experience, his sense of humor, and his love for the Catholic Church to the conference held Oct. 28-30 at St. John Neumann School.
“Father Nieli was very focused on the Eucharist and made us feel proud to be Catholic and to share our faith with others,” said Ross Gamble, one of the event coordinators.
The priest is a Paulist national Catholic evangelist and missionary. He was the director of evangelization for the Diocese of Austin, Texas, and evangelist and associate pastor at St. Patrick Church in Memphis, Tenn. He is also a former director for evangelization for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At the conference he spoke of the four rivers of the Holy Spirit that he sees the present culture thirsting for: unity, truth, goodness, and beauty. He used the success of the movie “The Passion” as an example of that thirst and how it was a wonderful tool for evangelization.
When Father Nieli was at Ground Zero in New York, and more recently when he was visiting people staying at the Astrodome in Houston after Hurricane Katrina, he found himself called to serve others.
“When the Holy Spirit moves, you are moved to mission — you are called to get out and get off your seat,” the priest said.
He found himself at the Astrodome after he was scheduled for a parish mission in Texas. He called the diocese to offer assistance and was told someone would get back to him. After a couple of days, Father Nieli called back to find out that the diocese was in negotiations with the mayor’s office. He then called the Red Cross, which referred him back to his local chapter. Running out of time, Father Nieli decided to put on his priestly collar and drive to downtown Houston. When he arrived at the Astrodome — with no formal permission to be there — he was quickly ushered in with the words, “Father, we are so glad you are here.”
“Meanwhile, the diocese was still in negotiation,” Father Nieli told the crowd in Columbia. “Sometimes the Holy Spirit jumps ahead of the bureaucracy.”
During the Mass held at the conference, Bishop Robert J. Baker touched on that sentiment when he encouraged people not to be hampered with false notions of humility.
“[Humility] is not putting your lamp under a bushel basket, as Jesus states in the Gospels,” the bishop said. “Jesus does not want us to hide the light of our gifts and talents and faith that would promote the Good News.”
In a talk on unity, Father Nieli illustrated his point by talking about how people can be quite different though members of the same family. Although people should be the unique persons God created them to be, he said, they also have a God-given need to be connected. So it is with the world, according to Father Nieli. He summarized with the words printed on the dollar bill, “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of Many, One”).
“Without the cross you have no America, because what is going to hold us together?” Father Nieli queried. “It is the cross like the one at Ground Zero that will make us one. It is the cross that will hold our families together. If you have it, embrace it. Turn your Ground Zero into an oasis of love.”
The Paulist said he has a love and respect for the diversity found in the United States, having been brought up in a multi-cultural and multi-faith community in New York. In all his travels, he sees that people are thirsting for unity, looking for glue.
“The table of brotherhood is the Eucharist,” Father Nieli said. “That is what will draw Americans together, the table that will draw the blue states and the red states together and erase that which polarizes so that everyone is pro-life, everyone is respectful of one another’s differences yet yearning for E Pluribus Unum.”
He explained that the Paulists’ founder, Father Isaac Hecker, knew that the Catholic Church had the power to unify the United States when he said that the church has preserved unity without encroachment of individual liberty. It has preserved individual liberty without loss of perfect unity.
“It begins in the heart, when we draw one another into our hearts … Isn’t that what we do when we pray for one another?” Father Nieli asked.
After Mass Ron Falter, who helped organize the event, shared an inspired reflection/prayer, as did others in the congregation.
“My mission for you is simple — to love, to serve humbly, and to proclaim the Good News, in good times and bad, when you are seen and when you are not seen, when it feels good or not, when it is difficult or easy,” Falter said. “This is not a ‘mission impossible,’ for [the Holy] Spirit will lead you and enable you.”