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Evangelization conference motivates laity to share authentic Good News

 043021evangelization conference

"Who is Jesus to you?" is the question Diocese of Gary Evangelization Conference attendees were asked to answer in one minute as they paired up on April 17 at St. Patrick in Chesterton. Maria Pedulla (from left) of St. Peter in LaPorte and Danny Sardon of Notre Dame in Michigan City shared their answers, while Mark Gabrione of St. Joseph in Dyer explained his relationship with Christ to Paul Carlson of St. Edward in Lowell. (Marlene A. Zloza photo) 

 

BY MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

            CHESTERTON – “Let’s be about sharing the Good News of Jesus with our brothers and sisters,” Bishop Robert J. McClory exhorted to more than 50 members of the laity as he welcomed them to the opening Mass at the annual Diocese of Gary Evangelization Conference on April 17 at St. Patrick.

            “All of us are called – Jesus uses the phrase ‘Do not be afraid’ – and those are words that can be given to us as we seek to undertake evangelization,” the bishop said. “We’d rather not risk being vulnerable, because someone might reject not just the Good News, but us.

            “But that fear of failure should not deter us from sharing the Good News,” he added. “We share with people what is important to us, so we should not fear sharing what is most important to us.”

            The three pathways to God, the bishop noted, are “Truth, beauty and goodness,” and while street corner evangelism is an old-fashioned way to reach out, it is not the only way. “Some are called to do that, and it is wonderful if you are called to that ministry, but there are so many other ways to engage people in the love of Jesus.”

            Recognizing more than 140 people who completed the 14-session diocesan evangelization training in-person in 2019-20 and the online classes in 2020-21, Sean Martin, diocesan director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life, said he “believes the Lord is truly raising up an army to lead evangelization in our parishes and in our diocese.”

            Bolstering that effort was the day’s keynote speaker, Deacon Ralph Poyo, founder of New Evangelization Ministries in Texas, who led participants through a stimulating series of challenges and questions aimed at increasing their self-awareness about their faith.

            “We have the greatest message in the world – who wouldn’t want to share that?” Poyo said about the Good News of Jesus. “Why is the entire world not breaking down our church doors (to get in)? Because they have a question – How do we know that Jesus is real?”

            Deacon Poyo admitted that he used to be in that uncertain group, going to Mass as a youth only because “Mom made me,” and later leaving the Catholic Church “because it didn’t mean anything to me.” Eventually, he met a religious mentor who patiently led him to trust in Jesus and believe in his love.

            That opened up a new life for Deacon Poyo, who heard God calling him to a life of evangelism, which he has embraced for 30 years. He said he once asked a woman he met in a church about her faith, and she demurred, telling him “My faith is a private thing between me and God.”

            “That’s not really part of being a Catholic,” he replied.

            To get a taste of evangelizing, Deacon Poyo had each person at the conference seek out someone they didn’t know and spend only one minute explaining, “Who is Jesus to you?” By a show of hands, only a few people found it difficult to do.

            “It was a good experience, because (my partner) was willing to share with me,” said Silvia Garza, a parishioner at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center in Valparaiso.

            Deacon Poyo spoke about the search for “authentic faith,” seen in the apostle Peter when he trusts Jesus enough to step out of his boat and walk on water with Jesus. This goes against “natural law,” which the apostles grew up believing in. The new truth taught by Jesus, that water can support the weight of a man – and that he will feed them with his Body and Blood – “is teaching us a new story, showing that he is super-natural.

            “Who do we trust? The people we know, and we do not trust our lives to God if we don’t know him,” said Deacon Poyo.

            “When Jesus and Peter got back in the boat, the other apostles’ lives had changed forever, because they saw that Jesus could circumnavigate natural law. Instead of living comfortably in our faith, we need to be challenged to get out of the boat.

            “We are in the faith dissemination business (not the information dissemination business), because if you’re not living your faith, then it doesn’t matter what you say, because people watch what you do,” Deacon Poyo pointed out. “What is the Lord calling you to? What is your boat?”

            Reaching out to his audience, Deacon Poyo suggested evangelists should always be asking, “What is the Lord doing in your life today?” and drew a number of inspiring responses.

            “You have certainly opened my eyes with your opening about fear. It really hit home,” said Angela Manigal of St. Patrick, while Margaret Saliga of St. John the Baptist in Whiting commented, “For you to say ‘go for it’ (in terms of evangelizing), I thank you for that.”

            “You just pushed me out of the boat,” summarized Monica Fletes of St. Mary in Crown Point.

            “The only way you can effectively share that Jesus is real to us is if you share something real from your own life,” Deacon Poyo said. “We all learned to play a mean game of ‘church,’ but when you take away all of the façade. . .our faith has to be made of something of substance.”

            The reason that the world doesn’t believe in the Catholic message, he added, “is because we lack conviction in our own Gospel. We are afraid that if we give people the true message of the Gospel, they will reject it, so we soften it.

            “Every one of us needs healing and faith, because we don’t trust God as all-powerful.

            “You need to trust that God will give you what you need,” Deacon Poyo explained. “We need help to learn to be authentic disciples. Ask God, what do you want me to give up, to work on?”

            When he asked his audience after a lunch break to share how the Lord had worked in their life during the morning sessions of the conference, the answers were surprisingly transformational. One woman said she’d quit one of her jobs without a back-up, a man said he was making plans to join a prison ministry, and another participant said he intends to start a women’s ministry at his parish.

            Deacon Poyo reassured the attendees, “It’s not your job to light hearts on fire, but to give them the Good News, to bring them to the proper disposition, so God can light them on fire.”

            Garza nodded in agreement throughout Deacon Poyo’s presentation, and called his message “amazing. He stirred up the Spirit in us. We need to pray to God because we are children of God, who wants to use us (to share the truth about his love) in any shape and form we can.”

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