For the people who live on the peripheries — who may be homebound, incarcerated, depressed or for other reasons find themselves living outside the warm embrace of a community — a new initiative of Hispanic and Latino Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville aims to reach out.
They are heeding Pope Francis’ 2013 call in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” The Joy of the Gospel, to become missionary disciples.
“A missionary disciple brings the Good News through testimony and words,” said Eva Gonzalez, who led events on the subject in late June and on July 17 at St. Rita Church. “It’s a person who reaches out to those who are most in need, who live at the periphery.
“They only see the darkness, but missionary disciples accompany you and bring life in the Good News,” said Gonzalez, the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Hispanic Ministry. “They will stop and wait for those left behind, to show a welcoming community, a parish that is their home.”
Groups of parish leaders from parishes with Spanish-speaking communities — there are about 13 or so in the archdiocese — are taking part in the “Living as Missionary Disciples” initiative. Each group will discern what missionary discipleship will look like in their parish, Gonzalez noted.
For some, it may mean an established men’s group will invite unchurched men to join their group and find a sense of belonging and support. That was one of the suggestions that surfaced during the July 17 event.
During the event, tables of six to eight parishioners sat together reading, studying and robustly exchanging their ideas for missionary discipleship.
Another idea that surfaced involved multigenerational catechesis, which would draw family members — with varying levels of knowledge and commitment — to share their faith together.
Gonzalez noted that missionary discipleship isn’t new, but doing it intentionally as a parish is a different approach.
Many already invite friends or acquaintances, one-on-one, into their parish communities. She’s noticed, “Once they start getting involved, their lives start changing. But it begins with their encounter with Jesus — they need the joy of the Gospel,” she said.
“It’s about bringing an encounter of Jesus. It’s not staying in our parish with those who are already coming. It’s going to those who are not coming.”
For those learning about missionary discipleship, the next step in preparation is an Aug. 4 presentation by Dr. Felix Palazzi, a professor of theology from Boston College. He will speak on pastoral conversion — what comes after an initial encounter with the love of Jesus, Gonzalez said.
The third step in preparation for missionary discipleship will be the Sept. 4 Encuentro, which is open to a broader group of participants. The day’s theme will be “We are Missionary Disciples.” The day’s two speakers will explore the topic through the lens of family life and youth and young adults, said Gonzalez.
For those interested in learning more about missionary discipleship, Evangelii Gaudium is available on the Vatican website.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published a short resource to help parishes develop a pastoral plan for missionary discipleship called “Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization.”