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Joe Kenny is a reporter for the St. Louis Review and Catholic St. Louis.
Beats: Sports; Catholic social teaching: Crime and justice, immigration, missions, multicultural traditions; Catholic Charities federated agencies; Senior citizens and aging.
Geographic areas covered: Parishes and schools in the South City, South County and Mid County Deaneries.
In an informal setting on the second floor of the Ferguson Brewhouse, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson found an audience of Catholics receptive to the message of becoming missionary disciples.
The commission of missionary discipleship was the primary focus of the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America," a gathering in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month attended by Archbishop Carlson and 19 delegates of the archdiocese.
At the Brewhouse gathering July 18, Archbishop Carlson said the Lord's commission to "go and make disciples" was targeted to "all of us." He suggested knocking on doors, perhaps, or reaching out to neighbors, relatives and friends in a persistent but friendly way — never nagging.
Christine Lightner of Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant agreed that "we have to work harder" at evangelization. "We have our work cut out for us to get people to come back" to the Church, she said. "We have to reach out."
Mary Luley, also of Sacred Heart Parish, said the message of evangelization needs to be brought up among Catholics, "and we need to act on it. The more we hear about it, especially from the archbishop, the more we might be inspired."
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson organized the evening program. Jeff Finnegan, pastoral associate and youth minister at the parish, said he thought the participants appreciated the archbishop's down-to-earth approach and accepted his call for the need to be disciples, which is important especially in an ecumenical and diverse community such as Ferguson.
"We need to take it beyond the walls" of the church, he said. "It's a good challenge to go beyond our comfort zone and the (boundaries) we put up as parochial parishes."
Leonard Bobrowski, director of music at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, said the archbishop's conversation with the gathering of mostly laypeople reinforced what was discussed at a recent convention of pastoral musicians. "It's good to know the Church is reaching out to people who are unchurched or fallen away" from the faith, Bobrowski said.
Answering questions, Archbishop Carlson offered suggestions on how parishes and parishioners can reach out to people on the "peripheries" who find it difficult to come to church or feel unwelcome. Several of the attendees cited the rewards of enhanced catechesis for people who are ill-informed or may have forgotten many key points about the faith. They and Archbishop Carlson discussed the possibility of structuring efforts at varied times that may better meet people's needs, perhaps on Sundays when people are already at church for Mass.
In his talk, Archbishop Carlson urged people who have a "strong sense of Church" to help the next generation.
He identified the first step of becoming a missionary disciple as allowing Jesus to work in our lives. "We can't love until we allow Jesus into our heart," he said. "Once we take the risk of opening ourselves and becoming vulnerable ... we can love those around us a lot better."
Archbishop Carlson suggested looking to the example of people who have done something extraordinary for others. For instance, his grandmother's sister gave up marriage and a family to care and provide for the archbishop's widowed grandmother and her three children. "She had great generosity. ... She had become the face of Christ to me."
To become missionary disciples, "we have to learn how to become the face of Christ to others," he said. "We're all invited, we're all challenged."
The way to get there, the archbishop said, is to "open up your life, take the risk, let the Lord love you and you listen to how He speaks."
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and attendees at the "Brewhouse Theology" program in Ferguson offered suggestions on reaching out to people on the "peripheries" of the Church, including:
• Offering them a cup of coffee
• Inviting them to a parish mision, other event or Mass — including an offer to take them out to eat afterward
• Seeing how the Church can offer programs tailored to their available time restraints
• Providing a catechesis program that is tailored to their needs
• Assisting them with other needs they may have
• Being creative in any other way
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