Conference addresses personal aspect of ministry

Sunday, May 29, 2016 - Updated: 10:00 am
By William Hill Correspondent

LATROBE — At the oldest in the United States and largest Benedictine monastery in the world, more than 275 campus ministers, priests, deacons and laypeople came to St. Vincent College and Archabbey for three days of presentations on “The New Evangelization and Higher Education: The Vision of Pope Francis.”

They came from 22 states and Canada, and all sessions May 23-25 were in the Fred Rogers Conference Center.

Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, chancellor of the college, welcomed all participants prior to introducing the keynote speaker, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington. He also recognized the other plenary session speakers, Dr. Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.

He went on to acknowledge the six impact session leaders, all addressing some aspect of evangelization on college campuses today: Dr. William Portier, professor of theology at the University of Dayton; Claudia Herrera, director of campus ministry, St. Thomas University in Florida; Dr. James Maher, provost emeritus, University of Pittsburgh; Msgr. Ray East, pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish, Washington, D.C., and director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholics; Marcel LeJeune, assistant director of campus ministry, Texas A&M University, the largest campus ministry program in the country; and Msgr. Vincent Krische, senior adviser, Petrus Development, an expert in Catholic campus ministry.

Unlike the familiar “it’s not personal, it’s just business” mantra from the “Godfather” movies, the recurring theme echoed by all the speakers was that evangelization is very personal.

Cardinal Wuerl spoke of the impact of Pope Francis in fostering “a new spirit of welcome in Catholic communities. He asks us not just to announce the word, but to do the word,” Cardinal Wuerl added, pointing out that the Year of Mercy declared by the Holy Father brings “a way of announcing the good news that is new in ardor, method and expression.”

The message of evangelization and sharing on a personal level was summarized concisely by Portier, who commented that we must work to stem the “corporatization of higher education,” saying that “Pope Francis gets it. It is very simple. Education must be personal.”

The questions “What is the good news? What is the message of evangelization?” were posed by LeJeune as he talked about the dying faith on college campuses, pointing out that most Catholic college students today are likely to have come from a single-parent family during their adolescence.

“I grew up in a two-parent, Catholic family, but I was not evangelized as a child, I walked away. I didn’t think the church had good news. I thought it was full of nos,” he said.

LeJeune said that he finally found that it was full of yeses, and that he has chosen intentionally to follow Jesus, commenting on the book, “Intentional Disciples,” saying that we have to recapture that idea in the church — to choose to follow Jesus. He again picked up the theme, saying that on college campuses, “we must start with a personal relationship with the students, not with doctrine.”

Woo came as a student from Hong Kong to enroll at Purdue University, saying she initially felt like “a Martian” but that people on staff would invite her to their homes to experience Easter and Christmas holidays with a family, again reflecting the personal connections that need to made to engage others. Woo noted that she felt most at home in the Catholic church in the middle of Purdue’s campus. She likened it to God’s kitchen table, because that’s where she sat to think about the day, to reflect on problems, just as we do at our own kitchen tables, to work out issues.

“It was there I found not only God, but people who loved God and loved me. And that’s the impact that you, as campus ministers have on students,” she said.

Bishop Barron addressed two main areas of the new evangelization: the use of media in evangelizing, and the need for a new apologetics. He described how his Word on Fire ministry began with one YouTube video in 2007 about finding the seeds of faith in the world by discussing some aspects of Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Departed.”

In the second portion of his talk, Bishop Barron addressed the 1-6 ratio — for every person who joins the church, six leave.

Some of this may arise from a few issues: a deep misunderstanding of God, or what he called the “Yeti theory of God.” We look for evidence as to whether he exists or not, failing to note that God is not a being, not an individual, but is subsistent in the act of being itself, in which all finite things come to be, Bishop Barron said.

He concluded by saying that campus ministers can put together their own media program, getting their best speakers to talk about important issues, and “if we do it with confidence and intelligence and panache, people will listen.”

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