Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Priscilla A. Greear - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | If faith without works is dead, then preaching stewardship without converting people to the Gospel is equally futile.
That was the message repeated by speakers at the second Florida Statewide Stewardship Day, held May 4 in Miami, which drew over 300 people from all seven Florida dioceses. A full slate of speakers helped participants reflect on the theme “Engaging the Family through the Four Pillars of Stewardship” — prayer, formation, hospitality and service.
The keys to success in evangelization, speakers said, were helping young people “plug into God” and showing empathy for the “pain” of modern families.
“The consistent message from all of them was that today, more than ever, the family remains the center of where our faith is brought to life. It is the first place we receive formation,” said Grace Veloz, director of stewardship for the Archdiocese of Miami, who hosted and coordinated the day.
LifeTeen speaker Joel Stepanek called on Catholics to lead the youngest “i-generation” to plug into God and the Church through warm hospitality, joyful Gospel witness and meaningful opportunities for parish leadership.
Otherwise, he said, increasing numbers in this “post Christian era” will drift with secular currents. He cited statistics showing that, on average, 6.5 people leave the Church for every new convert, 13 percent of Americans are former Catholics, and 1 in 4 have no religious preference.
“We’ve done things a certain way and it’s largely going to be ineffective for the next generation of people who will be stewards not only of our Church but for America,” said Stepanek, LifeTeen director of resource development. “We invite with radical hospitality, we live joy, we proclaim the Gospel. We answer tough questions. Then and only then can we invite people for a life of stewardship.”
Stepanek said the iGen, born from 1995 to 2015, are more tolerant and empathetic, diverse —50 percent are nonwhite— and hungry for safety and financial security in these post-9/11 and recession times of uncertainty and mass shootings. They love pictures and technology, read less and know less of Gospel fundamentals. But those who encounter Christ have great potential as evangelizers.
‘MOUTHPIECES FOR GOD’
“Young people can become the mouthpieces for God in the world that needs them because they can navigate the world better than you and I can,” he said. “We have to identify what is good in teen culture and pull it out so that we can proclaim Christ within it.”
Stepanek also recommended that churches impact their communities through robust service outreach and invite youths to participate and share their skills, such as their expertise in technology.
In another keynote talk, Julianne Stanz, director of discipleship and leadership development of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, affirmed the importance of hospitality in reaching families.
“Let’s have a little empathy for the folks we’re trying to reach. They’re coming into our parishes with their pain and if their pain is not transformed it’s often transferred,” said the Ireland native. “One of the biggest areas of growth for us as communities of stewardship is to help take people’s pain and see the light of hope in how they can share their gifts with others.”
Stanz called stewardship a way of life based on trust and gratitude. “Stewardship is not just about money but about giving of ourselves, our gift of prayer, our gift of presence, our gift of hospitality. At this time, it’s not easy for us to be Catholic and the world needs your witness more than ever.”
That witness includes personal testimonies beyond official Church teachings, she said, as 70 to 85 percent of Catholic parishioners today are “pre-evangelized” — they can’t articulate an encounter with Christ. These people are also ripe for service opportunities.
“Our mission, our essential DNA, according to the Gospel, is to evangelize and share the love of God, and the response to that love is gift,” Stanz said. “We need to focus on discipleship first because discipleship is our roots and everything else is fruit.”
Erica Hartge, stewardship director at Queen of Peace Church in Gainesville, agreed that hospitality is key.
“She said it so beautifully in trying to help people understand that stewardship is a call to holiness, to live out everything for him,” Hartge said. “It’s not about what the Church needs. It’s about how God made you. What do you love and are passionate about and gifted with? I think our job is to help them unlock that and bring that out.”
Evelyn and Johnny Goris of St. Edward Church in Pembroke Pines said the conference gave them hope that they will be able to guide their four daughters, ages 10-17, who disagree on some contentious teachings like gay marriage but respect their parents’ positions.
“We should be nurturing them and making it more inviting for them to understand what faith is about,” said Johnny Goris. Faith is a relationship with God that “you build through time, through life.”
Evelyn Goris, a catechist, praised her parish, saying people who visit often describe St. Edward as evangelical. “The same people who have that response come back because of it, because we are Spirit-filled,” she said.
Among the participants at the conference were sisters Lara, 16, and Mara Briceño, 12, who serve on the Parish Action Committee at St. Dominic Church in Miami.
“We’ve been trying to evangelize more, especially in our school,” said Lara, noting that it’s difficult “because we’re often faced with prejudice and judgment from schoolmates” when defending Church beliefs and teachings. She said the conference “helped me morally speaking and gave me strength to know what I’m doing is what I believe and stand for.”
The Venezuela natives also minister to families at the Jesuit Casa Manresa retreat house in Kendall. “We have to help the kids who do the retreats to have a better relationship with God and then end up feeling better so they come back,” said Lara. “It helps me get a better perspective of what the world is like outside of my church and how it needs help.”
Added Mara, “We’re only two little girls but we try to make a difference.”
Read Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s homily at the opening Mass of the statewide Stewardship Day here.