Together in Christ Groups begin planning ways to approach others with ‘missionary zeal’
A gathering focused on the spirit of encounter and dialogue took place Sept. 9 (the feasts of St. Peter Claver and Blessed Frederic Ozanam) at the Athenaeum of Ohio.
“Together in Christ: Saying ‘Yes’ to Missionary Discipleship” brought together immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, women who have faced crisis pregnancies, victims of racism and other injustices, and family farmers with area respect life, social justice and charitable ministriy leaders. It was organized by the archdiocesan Catholic Social Action and Respect Life Offices, along with Advocates for Justice Parish Collaborative, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Cincinnati, Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, and Communities United for Action.
“When you signed up for today, you may not have been exactly sure what you were coming to,” said Tony Stieritz, director of the Social Action Office, in his opening remarks. “That makes it even more beautiful that you want to be here. Today is about prayer, celebration, encounter, affirmation and going forth.”
Stieritz explained that the event was guided by Pope Francis’ message of “The Joy of the Gospel” and by the Holy See’s World Meeting of Popular Movements in California earlier this year, attended by a number of area representatives.
“By being here, you make the statement that we are against a culture of resentment and passionate about building a culture of unity and love,” he said. “Our objective is both spiritual and practical—to walk away with what we can do next to bring this to our communities.”
After a prayer offered by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, Father Dohrman Byers gave a reflection about missionary discipleship, which he said “at its simplest, is following Christ wherever the Gospel of life and liberty, justice and freedom, human dignity and care for creation needs to be proclaimed.”
He spoke of the call to awaken others to “missionary zeal,” noting that face-to-face encounters have moved him from awareness to zeal. “I’ve become convinced this is the way,” Father Byers said. “Much slower than I would want, but one personal encounter at the time seems the only way, the Lord’s way, to rouse the sluggish mass of the faithful.
“When I re-read Pope Francis’ call to missionary discipleship, one thing I notice is that he doesn’t start with the need for organization or publicity,” he added. “He starts with spirituality. He talks about unfashionable, un-liturgical, ‘popular piety’ as a place where the poor and marginal
can be met in God. I get the sense that his sense of spirituality is wider than ours, or
at least mine.”
By spirituality, he said, Pope Francis means prayer, “but also our talking to one another in the Spirit. One-on-one, face-to-face encounters are profoundly spiritual events, even when no prayer is uttered. Here we meet the Holy One in the sacred dignity and impenetrable wonder of another person. Following the presentation, participants worked in groups to develop statements of commitment to missionary discipleship that began with: “As we go forth, we say ‘yes’ to missionary discipleship by…” Among them:
• Building relationships with young people by planning opportunities and getting them there with a personal invitation.
• Holding environmental justice issues in prayer and finding ways to sit at the table where decisions are made.
• Committing to continue addressing prejudice and racism and to being reflections of God’s love in all we do.
The Together in Christ planning team has since met to discuss next steps, Stieritz said. “In response to several parish leaders, we decided to encourage parishes to replicate Together in Christ events on a parish level – individually or as clusters.
“Our team will be helping to pull the gatherings together. Our hope is that an even broader constituency of the faithful will have the opportunity to experience the same unity, encounter, and call to action.”