True evangelization is not a matter of knowing all the answers, but rather of being a disciple for Christ everywhere we go, according to Barbara Swiecki.
"Jesus set the world on fire," Swiecki said, noting that through evangelization, people can continue to fuel the fire that Jesus ignited.
All Catholics have the duty to evangelize, or to share their faith and spread the word of God, but the process can sometimes seem daunting or impossible, according to Swiecki.
The methods and goals of evangelization were the topic of conversation at the Aug. 16 installment of Theology on Tap, "Ask Me Why! Catholics and Evangelization." The discussion, held at Jitters Café in Henrietta, was led by Swiecki, pastoral administrator at the Rush-Henrietta Catholic Community in Henrietta.
She began the night by asking participants what they perceived evangelization to be, and about the stereotypes associated with it, mentioning the common practice of door-to-door recruitment by self-proclaimed evangelists.
One participant noted that a sales approach to evangelization does not work.
"Nobody wants something until they’ve seen it in action. When I evangelize, I try to show Christ working in my life," he remarked, suggesting that Catholics should use the story of their own personal faith journey as the foundation for how they can evangelize others.
Sharing Christ’s presence in our lives is an important aspect of evangelization, but we also need "to be joyful in our faith," according to Swiecki, who said that as a community, Catholics need to extend joy to every aspect of their lives.
Participant Maranda Skolen, the young-adult minister at St. Christopher Church in North Chili, always makes a conscious effort to joyfully spread her faith. She noted that she enjoys discussing Catholicism with others, whether in the grocery store or on an airplane.
The simple act of having a conversation with another person about one’s faith is significant, according to Swiecki.
"Putting yourself out there to talk to one person may be a little scary," she said. "But this will most likely create a ripple effect, which will cause more conversations and therefore faith will start to spread."
According to Swiecki, the practice of evangelization incorporates three key aspects. These factors revolve around one truth, that "to evangelize is to love," she said in quoting Pope Paul VI.
First, Catholics must have respect for the religion and spiritual situation of the person being evangelized. We must not prematurely judge another person based on their faith, she said. There also is a need to show concern for the person, therefore preventing offending another person’s faith. Finally, all efforts to evangelize should rely on the "certainties anchored in the Word of God."
Although these factors should serve as the basis for evangelization, there is not one correct way to share one’s faith, Swiecki noted.
"We all come with different gifts," said Shannon Loughlin, director of young-adult and campus ministry for the Diocese of Rochester. In the evangelization of others, Catholics should take advantage of the talents they possess. Some people will be able to spread their beliefs through concrete facts and intellect, Loughlin noted, whereas others can evangelize through service and outreach.
To promote Catholic evangelization, Swiecki mentioned a relatively new initiative sponsored by the Diocese of Rochester called "Ask Me Why!" The program is part of the Spirit Alive! spiritual-renewal program.
In March, the diocese provided local parishes with brochures and small red buttons containing the phrase "Ask me why!" The buttons are a simple way to elicit the question and a response, she said, which should be the favorite facets of one’s faith. The program is meant to motivate button wearers to talk about their faith more joyfully and to think about the reasons they are Catholic.
Darlajean Morris, a parishioner of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Gates, said she would probably wear the button in a place such as a supermarket.
"I might also wear it at my stable," she said. "I’m not sure if they know I am Catholic, but this would help lead to conversations about it."
Whether a person wears the button or not, evangelization centers on promoting the values of Jesus and sharing our own faith story, Swiecki said.
"If you speak from your heart, you are never wrong," she stated.