Event calls on church workers to evangelize

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Sal Della Bella, the new director of the Office of Evangelization for the archdiocese. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)
Sal Della Bella, the new director of the Office of Evangelization for the archdiocese. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Nearly 200 representatives of parish staff, schools and archdiocesan agencies — and a few members of the clergy and religious orders — gathered at the Flaget Center last week to learn about the new evangelization during a day-long Archdiocesan Leadership Institute (ALI).

The April 10 program featured a series of presentations modeled on TED Talks (TED stands for technology, entertainment and design). During TED Talks, leaders in their fields give “the talk of their lives,” according to the TED Talk website. The talks are recorded and shared on the internet for others to experience.

Archdiocese of Louisville leaders followed that model last week, giving a variety of 15 to 20 minute presentations about evangelization that were accented by slideshows, videos and entertainment. The presentations were recorded and some will be posted online in the future.

Father Jeffrey Shooner, the archdiocese’s director of vocations and vicar for priests, developed the idea and calls it REV, rather than TED. REV stands for religion, evangelization and vocation.

Father Shooner was one of about a dozen people who spoke during the event. Other presenters included Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz; Sarah Fellows, director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Louisville; lay Catholic volunteer Bill Hardin; Eva Gonzalez, director
of Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese; newly ordained Deacon Tim Golden; Michelle Herberger, coordinator of pastoral care for the archdiocese; Javier Fajardo, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries for the archdiocese; Dr. Brian Reynolds, the archdiocese’s Chancellor and chief administrative officer; and Sal Della Bella, the archdiocese’s new director of the Office of Evangelization.

The presenters took different approaches to their talks. Archbishop Kurtz, who served as the day’s keynote speaker, talked about the “Theology of the New Evangelization.” His two talks were catechetical and steeped in Scripture.

The new evangelization, which was the subject of a synod of bishops last fall, aims to reinvigorate the faith of all Catholics who can then go out and evangelize others. It’s meant especially to aid those who’ve experienced a crisis of faith.

Archbishop Kurtz said that the new evangelization isn’t intended to add new programs or create more to do.

“The new evangelization, if we get it right, it’s not hectic, it’s not burdensome. The new evangelization is Christ acting and you and me getting out of the way,” he said.

The archbishop quoted the second Chapter of Revelation, verse four, which says, in part, “I hold this against you, you used to have more love.”

“We’d make a mistake if we thought that’s talking to tepid Catholics, the ones who stopped coming to Mass,” he said. “I know the new evangelization is about reaching out to people who’ve become inactive. But no, those words are meant for me and they’re meant for you.”

The quote from Revelation, he said, is the core of the theology of the new evangelization.

“We’re asked to be serene and we’re asked to return and rekindle something God has already given us as gift,” he added. “We’re not asking for new gifts; the gift is already deep in our hearts.”

Other presenters during the day’s program discussed their ministries and the opportunities those ministries offer for evangelization.

Sarah Fellows spoke of the needs of young adults and gave parish staff some ideas for evangelizing those in their ’20s and ’30s.

Michelle Herberger’s talk focused on pastoral ministry and the opportunities for evangelization that are available among people who are in nursing homes and hospitals and others who are experiencing difficulties in their lives. She noted that people in these situations are ripe for evangelization.

She said a survey at one local hospital showed that in recent weeks, 69 percent of patients who identified themselves as Catholic did not belong to a parish.

Other presenters shared their personal experiences of evangelization.

Eva Gonzalez shared the different ways she was evangelized growing up in Mexico. Religious education, especially for First Communion, was rigorous, she said. Hour-long classes were held five days a week for a full year. And devotions, especially to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe, were very much a focus of spiritual life, she added.

“It was important to me that chapels and churches were open all the time,” she said. “You couldn’t go by yourself, but there was always a friend who would go with you.”

Bill Hardin, a member of Christ the King Church, delivered a talk he called “Church: Why I stay.”

The 75-year-old African American described his childhood and adult life as a Catholic in the Archdiocese of Louisville before integration and after. He said he watched from a church alcove as his brother made his First Communion only after “all the white folks had Communion.”

He described having to walk past a Catholic boys’ high school for white children on his way to Catholic Colored High. He also noted the destitution left in the West End after so many families moved to the suburbs. Despite these realities, he said, “I thought, there has to be more than this. So, I stayed.” He added, “I relied on the evangelization of a few good people.”

Javier Fajardo focused on the sacrifices his mother made and the effect she had on his faith. She appeared to be the first and most important evangelizer in his life, he said. He also described the way Catholic Cemeteries approaches evangelization, noting that the first aim of its staff is to minister to the families of the deceased and to show them God’s love.

Toward the end of the program, Dr. Reynolds showed a video produced by local church workers called “Parish Impossible.” It portrayed problems that Catholics have experienced at parishes in an exaggerated and comedic way. But it also identified some challenges for parishes and priests, highlighting the frustration callers feel when they get a recorded message in the parish office; the difficulties some have when they need to reach a priest; and the locking of church doors between liturgies and other uses, which has become the norm in many parishes in the United States.

Sal Della Bella, the archdiocese’s new director of evangelization, closed the program by encouraging attendees to think about how they have been evangelized in their own lives, how they can evangelize others and how they can invite others to evangelization. And he called on church workers to ensure they always try to show the compassion of Christ.

He also related a story about his dog of many years ago, Shiloh, who was directed by the vet to take cod liver oil. Della Bella described a comedic scenario in which he and his wife attempted repeatedly to force-feed the 75-pound dog with a spoon. Then, during one feeding, the oil ended up on the floor and Shiloh walked over to it and licked it up. The story drew laughter from the audience.

Della Bella pointed out that evangelization can be the same way; the message doesn’t need to be force-fed.

“It’s all about Jesus. The reason you all do what you do is because each of you has been touched … by the person Jesus,” he said. “And you want share that with others.”

The day also featured a drumming performance by the Office of Multicultural Ministry Drum Corps and a couple of songs from the musical “Godspell,” presented by St. Xavier High School students.

Holy Cross students, who are members of the Cougars for Christ student group, provided hospitality during the program.

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