Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Fr. Louis Urbanski speaks with Christina Kosiewicz of St. Edward Parish in Keizer and her daughter Genevieve during pastoral ministry conference April 17.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Fr. Louis Urbanski speaks with Christina Kosiewicz of St. Edward Parish in Keizer and her daughter Genevieve during pastoral ministry conference April 17.
WILSONVILLE — When Catholics are loving, joyful and hopeful, others will be drawn to the word of God, Archbishop Alexander Sample told 330 parish leaders April 17.

"Most people are going to work, raising families, dealing with all the tasks of ordinary life," the new archbishop said in his first homily to pastoral ministers of western Oregon. "Our job is to form them and give off signs that are going to grab attention. We live differently because we have accepted the love of Jesus Christ."

Speaking at a pastoral ministry conference focusing on the New Evangelization, Archbishop Sample called the priests, deacons, Religious and lay ministers his "partners in building a culture of love and joy in western Oregon."

Warning that Catholics lose their evangelizing force if they "get swept away in the culture," the archbishop urged parish leaders to think about how they "radiate the love of Christ."

Part of being loving, he said, is reaching out to church members who've left. Many inactive Catholics report that no one called to check on them when they stopped coming to Mass. They did not feel cared for. "That is a failure on our part," Archbishop Sample told the parish ministers.

The staffers came from all over western Oregon, including Grants Pass near the California border, the Oregon Coast and small towns of the southern Willamette Valley. When first timers at the conference were asked to raise hands, Archbishop Sample put his arm up emphatically. That caused the crowd to laugh and applaud.

Deacon Owen Cummings, a theologian at Mount Angel Seminary, was guide for the day. He offered a short Mary Oliver poem to sum up the New Evangelization: "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."

Roman Catholics are the largest religious group in the U.S. Next are former Roman Catholics. Those are the people the New Evangelization hopes to welcome and invite.  
The church needs to take seriously those who say "I'm spiritual, but not religious," Cummings told parish ministers. People today want to choose, not receive traditions, he hypothesized. Given that, Catholics need to work to dispel the false notion that their church is not open to other cultures and traditions. While popes and bishops have taught that the fullness of truth resides in the Catholic Church, they have long recognized that truth also exists elsewhere.

"We need to realize that Catholicism is a very big tent, not a narrow broom closet," Cummings said.

He decried "widespread theological illiteracy," which he says has caused many Catholics to drift away from practicing faith. Youths, he told the group, need to know the basics like the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins as a firm starting point for their lives of faith.

He appealed to the pastoral ministers: "Help our people to recognize what an immensely rich tradition we have."

But first and foremost, he said, people need to be opened to God's love, Cummings said. "Once people know God loves them, miracles happen," he explained. "God has a passion for us. He is thirsty for us."

This fall's Synod of bishops said that the New Evangelization compels the church to welcome migrants and combat poverty by charity and change of unjust social structures. The bishops also said the church must express God's steadfast love to families, including non-traditional ones.

"God's love does not abandon anyone," Cummings said.

Natalie Scott, youth minister at St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass, asked Cummings what she should say to young Catholics angered by church teaching on gay marriage. He suggested that she start with love and with the mystery of the human person before explaining church teaching.

Sounding Archbishop Sample's theme that evangelization begins with the energized faith commitment of each Catholic, Cummings said being an evangelizer requires "a serious discipline of prayer." Distractions like too much shopping, video games and cell phones can inhibit the quiet in which prayer happens and in that way dampens evangelization, he said.

Cummings told ministers that newly-initiated Catholics should not only be steered toward liturgical tasks like reading scripture and distributing Holy Communion, but should be taught to live the gospel vibrantly in the workaday world. The way they live should "turn heads," Cummings explained.

The day inspired many ministers. Laura Patton, director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, said during a break that evangelization is the heart of the church because it's also at the heart of the human person. It's in our identity to spread the good news, Patton explained.  

Deacon Mike Caldwell, who speaks at retreats for people recovering from abortion, says he has seen that scripture often is what brings people back to practicing their faith. "It makes them see that the church is where they belong," Caldwell said.
Father Bill Moisant, pastor of Resurrection Parish in Tualatin, has welcomed speakers to teach parishioners to evangelize.

The conference began with morning prayer, included Mass and ended with a prayer of evangelization. The conference is "an opportunity to be renewed in the mission of Christ," said Deacon Tom Gornick, who directs evangelization services for the archdiocese. He cited Pope Paul VI, who wrote that evangelization is the church's "deepest identity," and last fall's Vatican Synod on the New Evangelization, which called on parish workers to animate members to become evangelizers.