Speaker calls for greater evangelization - Catholic Courier

Speaker calls for greater evangelization

HENRIETTA — For Catholics who believe the practice of their faith begins and ends with attending Sunday Mass, Father John Hurley, CSP, would like to issue a wake-up call.

He noted that some 77 percent of U.S. Catholics do not attend Mass weekly — yet he pinned the problem not so much on that group, but rather the other 23 percent who are at church but don’t strive to spread their faith.

"We’ve got enough dead wood in our pews today, and it isn’t all being sat on," Father Hurley stated during his keynote address, "Creating a Culture of Formation for the New Evangelization," at the annual Gathering of the Ministerium May 15 at the DoubleTree Hotel.

Father Hurley, who serves as the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s executive director of the Department of Evangelization, said evangelization is an essential component of Catholicism as illustrated by parishioners being exhorted at the end of Mass to go forth and proclaim the Catholic faith, "not to go back to the normalcy of our lives."

He drew laughter when recalling that as a child, his mother would make him answer the door when groups from evangelical churches would come up his driveway each Saturday. However, Father Hurley asserted that Catholics could stand to be similarly motivated: "Sisters and brothers, if we could have that much enthusiasm about taking our message to others, we’d be in a very different place."

He said evangelization doesn’t necessarily have to involve knocking on doors, being that the 77 percent of absent Catholics are mostly people we know: When he asked if anybody in the room had at least one personal acquaintance who has fallen away from church, nearly all hands went up.

Father Hurley also cited the need to welcome outsiders at church in an effort to form wider communities. He said this is crucial when it comes to young adults, who constitute the highest percentage of unchurched Catholics, and people of other cultures.

"Our ministry of hospitality is so often just to the people we know," Father Hurley remarked. However, he said that in one of his previous parish assignments, the church would be open at all hours and its priests would approach strangers who were praying by themselves and appeared distraught.

"We would ask, ‘Is there anything we can do?’ ‘I just got a pink slip and I don’t go how to go home.’ And the list goes on," he said.

Father Hurley added that it’s vital for practicing Catholics to articulate their faith in normal daily conversation: "There was a time as a child when the two things you never talked about were religion and politics — and they’re the two most talked about things today. Where are we (Catholics) in that?" he said.

The Paulist priest asserted that Catholics must demonstrate regularly that they’re on fire for their faith — "to live our lives so that other people will ask, ‘What makes you so different, with the gloom and doom around us?’ We preach by how we live our lives, and we underestimate the power of that."

He said putting these ideals into action may mean making changes — and that can be a sticking point for many regular churchgoers who would rather simply keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. But Father Hurley observed that if maintaining the status quo is only resulting in empty pews, then change is imperative: "Maintaining is more stressful than changing."

Father Hurley made his presentation to more than 425 people at the ninth-annual Gathering of the Ministerium, a one-day event begun by Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark as a means to unite people serving in various leadership positions around the diocese. Both Bishop Clark and Bishop Robert Cunningham — the Bishop of Syracuse and the Rochester Diocese’s apostolic administrator — were among the attendees May 15. In his opening blessing, Bishop Cunningham noted the key roles of those assembled in leading the church’s evangelization effort.

"The church depends upon you, it counts on you. You are a part of us and we depend on all of you to build the kingdom," Bishop Cunningham told the audience.

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