Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
MIAMI | Donating to your parish is a transaction. Becoming involved in your parish is a relationship.
Focusing on the first is useless if the second isn’t happening, according to speakers at the Stewardship and Ambassadors of First Impression Day hosted Oct. 2, 2021 by the archdiocesan Office of Development.
“We have to get out of this idea of transaction. We have to get into the idea of relation,” said keynote speaker Cande de Leon to the more than 250 members of parish staffs, priests and ministry leaders who attended the trilingual event.
De Leon is the author of “Heart of the Mission: Simple Ways to Bring People to Jesus,” and has served as executive director of the Office of Mission Advancement for the Diocese of Phoenix since 2016.
“He has revolutionized stewardship there,” said Grace Veloz, Miami’s director of stewardship.
De Leon, 44, has a master’s in business administration and is finishing a degree in theology. He worked in the secular world of marketing and management — and was not much of a practicing Catholic — before experiencing a “call to evangelize” the same day he planned to start a consulting business in 2006.
He shared the deeply moving story of how God confirmed that call and assured his listeners that “when you beg for God to help you, he’ll help you.”
But de Leon also stressed that the Christian priority is to bring people into a relationship with Jesus. And turning a request for baptism, for example, into an exercise in filling out forms and jumping through hoops defeats that purpose.
“We have one job: Go and make disciples. That’s our job and we can’t even do that right,” de Leon said.
He cited statistics showing that roughly 10% of Catholics attend daily Mass; 20% support the full budget of their parish; and 30% or less are engaged in their parish.
“Discipleship and engagement are the same thing,” de Leon said. “Stewardship is strengthening relationships” to increase discipleship.
Not only does stewardship require recognizing that “everything we have is a gift from God and we are managers of those gifts” — time, talent and treasure. Stewardship also requires us to recognize that every person is “a walking tabernacle” and “we have to take care of our lives and the lives of others.”
“People need to know that you care about them,” de Leon said, that the Church and their fellow Christians empathize with their pain or frustration or joy.
“Think how you’re being relational and not transactional,” he advised. Ask Jesus: “Who do you want me to call? Who do you want me to reach out to? What do you want me to do? Ask him again and again and again. And he’ll answer you.”
De Leon’s message echoed that of Auxiliary Bishop Enrique Delgado, who opened the day with a prayer and a blessing. Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrated a midday Mass for participants.
“Let us begin to give willingly our time, talent and treasury as a blessing for others and as a way of evangelization and sanctification for our lives,” Bishop Delgado said.
The day also featured a dozen or so other presenters, primarily local priests who led workshops in each of the three languages spoken in South Florida: English, Spanish and Creole.
Their message managed to fuse the day’s themes: if stewardship is relational, then being good “ambassadors” for Christ means making a good “first impression.”
Steven Colella, cabinet secretary for Evangelization and Parish Life in the Archdiocese of Miami, shared some statistics with those who attended his “ambassadors of first impressions” workshop.
He said 70-85% of all Catholic parishioners in the U.S. are in the “pre-evangelization phase” — which means their religious practice may be due more to habit than to conviction.
That is reflected in the percentage of Americans that are former Catholics: 13%; and the percentage of millennials that identify as Catholic: 16%. In fact, “there are more than six former Catholics for every convert to Catholicism,” Colella noted.
That also is reflected in the breakdown of a typical parish of 600 families: Only 180 of those families will be attending Mass regularly; 420 may only attend periodically it at all; and about 55 of those families are giving 86% of their time, talent and treasure to the parish.
“And all this data is pre-COVID,” Colella said, noting that many people stopped going to church due to the pandemic. “They broke their habit. Who’s going to bring them back to church?”
Father Yamil Miranda, administrator of All Saints Parish in Sunrise, said stewardship is the answer. To him that means meeting people where they are and helping them find a home in the Church.
“The first thing is let me save that soul and let me feed that soul,” Father Miranda said. If a parish does that well, “money will come by itself. I don’t need to ask.”