By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
Fargo, N.D. – In his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis wrote: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”
More than 700 people from parishes throughout the dioceses of Fargo and Crookston gathered to continue down the path of discernment during the Convocation of Parish Leaders: Evangelizing Missionary Disciples. It took place at the Avalon Events Center in Fargo from Nov. 30 – Dec. 1.
The local event flowed from the National Convocation of Catholic Leaders that brought 3,500 delegates from across the country to Orlando in July 2017. Following the national convocation, Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner and Bishop John T. Folda discussed joining forces for a local event to continue the mission of the national convocation.
“We will pray, reflect and discern how we, as individual disciples of the Lord and as God’s Church in this place … may bring the good news, the ‘Joy of the Gospel,’ as Pope Francis directs us, to the people of our age in a more effective way,” Bishop Hoeppner said during the Convocation’s opening Mass.
The first keynote speaker, Palottine Father Frank Donio, is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center. As a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Father Donio collaborated on the document “Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization.” Convocation Delegates were encouraged to study this document before attending.
“There is a method that Jesus used and a method that could be seen as missionary discipleship. It starts with the encounter with the Lord. The supreme encounter is what we just did together, the Mass. The Eucharist is the supreme encounter,” said Father Donio. “How do we build that relationship and maintain that relationship throughout our day, throughout our week, throughout our life? Through our personal prayer, through our study of faith, and through our care of our brothers and sisters.”
EVANGELIZATION FLOWS FROM PRAYER, LOVE
The second keynote was presented by Msgr. Thomas Richter, pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Dickinson, N.D.
“The truth is that one does not need to be a scripture scholar … a master teacher, a theologian or have all the answers to evangelize,” he said. “Evangelization is simply about one starving man who has found where the bread is and wants to help others find it.”
He said through a deep relationship with Jesus, evangelization can naturally flow into daily encounters because people share what they love.
Delegates, who were chosen by each pastor to represent their parish, found inspiration in the keynote presentations.
Theresa Zettel, a parishioner of St. Michael, Mahnomen who teaches at St. Michael’s School, said, “The reminder from Msgr. Richter that we need to be in love with Jesus to witness to others,” stood out to her. She also appreciated the time spent in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and hearing others’ stories.
Rob and Monica Lisburg of St. Joseph, Fertile, appreciated Msgr. Richter’s emphasis on evangelizing in everyday situations.
“I live my life to the best that I can, but you can always do more,” said Rob.
“When God sends you someone, don’t turn away; be aware that this is probably a mission for you,” Monica said.
Lynette and Nate Triebwasser, delegates from St. Andrew, Hawley, had a similar takeaway.
“We tend to make things complicated, but it’s just a simple thing: If you have Christ within you and you love Christ, then share that,” said Lynette.
“He said you’re living in your head too much, get out of your head, you’re putting too much stress on yourself,” Nate said.
“I have learned that evangelization is not a scary word. I have learned that all I need to do is be myself and share my love for Jesus with others,” said Beth Huschle, a delegate from St. Joseph, Bagley.
“[The keynotes] opened my heart and mind and made me want to grow in my love for Jesus and to give that to others,” said Carol Schlief, a delegate from St. Ann, Blackduck.
“This has been an excellent time of formation and very powerful prayer,” said Deacon Dean Roberts of St. Francis de Sales, Moorhead.
He appreciated hearing the stories of other delegates throughout the convocation. He said it will help him refocus on those who feel like outsiders.
FORMING MISSIONARY DISCIPLES
In addition to presentations and prayer, delegates participated in panel discussions and focused conversations in parish and diocesan groups.
The first breakout session focused on evangelization. Groups of panelists from various backgrounds including clergy, Natural Family Planning practitioners, college students, parents, and youth ministers shared their stories.
The second round of panel discussions focused on five themes: the domestic church, youth and emerging adults, evangelization in rural parishes, the peripheries and bringing people back to the Church.
Rachel Herbeck, the Outreach and Policy Coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference spoke on the panel titled “On the Peripheries”.
She said people think evangelization means going far away, but the peripheries are close to home.
“The reality is in all of our lives as Catholics, there are people on the peripheries that we are called to be in relationship with,” she said. “Identifying peripheries is simply seeking out the places that are devoid of the Gospel.”
Her work with MCC has led her to view the state Capitol and political arena as a periphery.
“As Msgr. Richter said, the primary vocation of the laity is to bring the Gospel into the public square. Not only the Capitol, but in discussion about politics,” Herbeck said. “We see politics right now where everything is so separated out. There is room for the Gospel there. There is room for Catholics to have influence there and so that’s a particular periphery.”
She encouraged delegates to ask God which marginalized people they are called to serve, whether it’s those in prison, the lonely, or building relationships with legislators.
BRINGING IT HOME
During Mass on the second day of the convocation, Bishop Folda spoke about how the Holy Spirit transformed the Apostles from a group of frightened fishermen to fearless evangelists and invited delegates to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
“Our Lord has called us to be with him. That’s the very meaning of the word convocation – a gathering together,” Bishop Folda said. “He sends us out to friends, family, coworkers and fellow students and even perfect strangers, so they too might have the hope that we have. Hope that’s founded on the love and the mercy of Christ. Hope for eternal glory, looking on the beautiful face of God.”
The final hours of the Convocation of Parish Leaders were spent in parish and diocesan work groups. Delegates discussed how to use their convocation experience to impact their parishes and communities. Each delegate identified a person or group and created an outreach plan.
Grants have been received from the Mount Saint Benedict Foundation and Our Sunday Visitor to support evangelization projects in the Diocese of Crookston.
Vickie Anderson of St. Joseph, Beaulieu, said she plans to be more prayer-focused and be open to sharing Christ with people outside the Church, especially those she meets in community organizations.
Her parish group discussed ideas for welcoming people back to the parish, ways to become more visible in the community and how to share their increased love and enthusiasm for God.
“There have been many benefits to attending this convocation for me on a personal level, but to work closely with our other parishioners who are here is inspiring and reassuring that there are many who are passionate about our Catholic faith and want to share it with others,” said Cathy Larson, Principal of Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes.
Beth and Matt Huschle of St. Joseph, Bagley, plan to reach out to other young families with an invitation to participate in the growing religious education program.
“[We have] renewed confidence that we have what it takes to share with others and build our parish community,” Beth said.
Father John Kleinwachter appreciated seeing the Holy Spirit working throughout the event.
“The convocation really helped all of us to see concretely that evangelization is an everyday action,” said Father Kleinwachter. “Before we always heard that it was not preaching on a soapbox, but we never had such a number of witness talks that convincingly demonstrated that evangelization is down to earth and ordinary and doable by all members of the Church.”
Click HERE to view photos from the Convocation of Parish Leaders.
Click HERE for delegate perspectives across the Diocese of Crookston.