Wednesday, May 23, 2012

‘Passionately Catholic lay people’ help spur New Evangelization on Long Island

Garden City — “The New Evangelization” means more than talk, activists, educators, and writers told close to 150 people at a May 5 conference at Nassau Community College (NCC) here.

Rather, it means much labor and prayer to rekindle faith and to engage people, the culture and society through the Gospel of Jesus, various speakers said at the daylong conference, “Revitalizing the Church and Society: the ‘New Evangelization’ of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI,” sponsored by NCC’s Center for Catholic Studies.

“There are so many successful initiatives going on throughout the diocese,” said Peggy Clores, education/formation coordinator for Our Lady of Mercy Church, Hicksville, one of the organizers of the conference who moderated a panel on apostolates and ministries. So Joseph Varacalli, director of the Center for Catholic Studies, initiated the conference.

“For so long a lot of what we were doing was not resonating with people,” Clores said. Now, through the growth of campus ministry, LifeTeen (liturgically centered youth outreach), Catholic Writers of Long Island, and various educational efforts “we wanted to bring them together and create an awareness.”

Msgr. Robert Batule, professor of systematic theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, in his theological overview of the new evangelization, referred to the words of Jesus at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. “Go therefore and make disciples,” often referred to as “the Great Commissioning.”

At the time, Msgr. Batule noted, Jesus’ command to “go” referred to venturing out to foreign lands. “Now, the message is to go to your families, those closest to you.”

“Being Christian and being Catholic means being a missionary,” said Marianist Brother Timothy Driscoll, a teacher at Kellenberg Memorial High School who coordinates the school’s missionary outreach to the Solomon Islands. “Lack of missionary zeal is a lack of zeal for faith.”

Yet being a missionary doesn’t always mean going off to foreign lands, he said. “You can stay here on Long Island.”

Tim Mulhearn, veteran school choice advocate, pro-life activist, and involved lay Catholic, cited the writings of Pope John Paul, who drew heavily on the thoughts of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI’s 1975 Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” “On Evangelization in the Modern World.”

Though evangelization refers to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the new evangelization refers to “re-evangelization,” Mulhearn said, “a comprehensive process of Christianization.”

He quoted Pope John Paul. “Many Catholics have not been effectively incorporated into life in Christ. Baptized as infants many have never made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel. As adolescents and adults many drift away from the Church.”

A number of speakers, such as Frank Russo, president of the New York State chapter of the American Family Association, noted that “Church attendance among Catholics has declined in the past half century to a point where only about a fifth of Catholics now attend Mass on Sunday, and other Catholic practices are lacking as well.

“We first have to evangelize ourselves,” said Rick Hinshaw, editor of The Long Island Catholic.

Clores discussed an adult formation program that she helped start at Our Lady of Mercy, Hicksville, where adults learn about their faith.

Clara Sarrocco, founder of the C.S. Lewis Society, noted the importance of personal conversion, “not just one moment of conversion, but lifelong conversion,” continually growing in faith. The writings of C.S. Lewis have much to offer for people who seek the truth to navigate past the obstacles to fullness of faith.

“There is a quest of wisdom and truth,” especially among young people, said Andrew Scott, campus minister at St. John’s University, even among those who seem to be looking in the wrong places. Evangelization can appeal to that.

Brother Timothy cited the need for “transformative experience,” such as through Mass, and other experiences which “are deeply affective.” For example, vivid experiences such as World Youth Days begun by Pope John Paul and continued by Pope Benedict, offer more than a “beige Catholicism,” which is bland and does not engage.

Brother Timothy also emphasized the need for “creating a culture in which the Catholic faith is nurtured.” Catholic schools can help create that environment where students feel the warmth of the faith and it becomes a part of them.

Father Brian Barr, diocesan vocations director, noted the zeal he sees from the diocese’s seminarians, from young people who have participated in a monthly holy hour for vocations at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, and the increased zeal of young campus ministers serving colleges on Long Island.

Much of this arose, he said, from the work of “passionately Catholic lay people,” such as teachers at Kellenberg who love the Eucharist and share that love with their students.

Yet the new evangelization also requires confronting the larger culture, especially when the culture stands against Gospel values.

“Evangelization is not just cheap talk,” said George Frost, retired professor of economics at Suffolk Community College and chairman of the Long Island Coalition for Life. “It requires tough action on behalf of the Gospel of Life.”

Lisa Mladinich, one of the organizers of the conference, author and founder of the Catholic Writers on Long Island, talked about how her plans for a book signing to publicize her book grew into a 2010 conference for Catholic writers. As a result, Catholic Writers of Long Island arose to help Catholic writers evangelize, grow in their faith, develop their craft, and connect with each other.

Despite the difficulties that new evangelization faces, many of the speakers emphasized, the rise of different efforts demonstrate the potential.

“This day is about hope,” Clores commented.

The Long Island Catholic
Peter Sheehan