Local Catholics reflect on cardinal's Pentecost pastoral letter

BRAINTREE -- Some local Catholics involved in evangelization in the Archdiocese of Boston are offering initial reflections on Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley's pastoral letter on evangelization, entitled "A New Pentecost: Inviting All to Follow Jesus," released for Pentecost Sunday, June 12.

Janet P. Benestad, Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization for the Boston Archdiocese said that a pastoral letter reveals an important message from a bishop beyond that of a media statement or other, shorter, letters.

"It's something that he deems so important that he needs to communicate in a more complete way, in a more thoughtful way. It is at the level of catechesis. He is catechizing the faithful of the Archdiocese of Boston," said Benestad.

Benestad called the letter "user-friendly" and said she recommends people read the letter a section at a time and then reflect on each part.

The eleven sections of the letter give a multi-faceted look at evangelization starting with its beginnings with the Apostles at Pentecost, as well as its true meaning, and how parishes are the center of outreach. The cardinal devotes a section explaining evangelization as the primary mission of the Church.

Benestad described evangelization as a changing of the heart and cited the cardinal's message that conversion comes not from knowing about Jesus, but actually knowing him.

"When one is evangelized, one is in touch with Jesus Christ our savior, in a very intimate way, in a very personal way. One prays every day, one shares that excitement with one's family," said Benestad. She compared sharing the faith like a family sharing day-to-day good news around the dinner table.

Benestad also commented on the section of the pastoral letter that identified the role of new Church movements and communities in evangelization.

"These groups have been really very, very effective in energizing people, in making them aware of evangelization, especially strategies for evangelization, how to approach people who may be a little uncomfortable with the faith," she said.

"They really are the ones who are forces for renewal in our archdiocese, so it's very important that we talk about them," she added.

Jean Lorrey, operations manager at St. Patrick Parish in Natick, connected with the section on the meaning of evangelization. She particularly liked the cardinal's message of "Evangelization always seeks to propose our faith and never to impose it" and his three ways to evangelize.

In his letter, the cardinal explained that evangelization can take the form of witnessing to one's faith, sharing God's action in one's life with others, and inviting others "to experience Christ's saving love by walking with us in our Catholic Church."

"Our pastor, Father Brian Kiely, had made evangelization a priority for the parish and I think that's really key. It sets the tone for all of the ministries," Lorrey said.

She said that the St. Patrick parish council divides its ministries into five different groups: Pastoral Concerns, Faith Formation, Social Activities, Buildings and Facilities, and Stewardship.

Lorrey said that evangelization is a thread that runs through every group in the parish council.

She described a new ministry called "The Ministry of Hope" at St. Patrick Parish, which welcomes and assists the families of the recently deceased before, during, and after the funeral held at the parish.

Some family members, she said, have not been active in their faith.

"This is a way for us to reach out and be there for them and to show them that we love them, we're the Church, we're here for you in your time of need," she said.

Stephen Colella, associate director of the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young adults (ONE) for the Boston Archdiocese called the letter "timely" and "excellent."

"It's a good time in our Church to remember what our mission is and what our core is," said Colella.

In regards to parishes being the centers of evangelization, Colella said "The parish and the diocese have unique relationship that is complementary," where a diocese can propose a framework for an initiative, but the structure is lived out in a specific way on a parish level.

He said that part of his job is to research current trends and models on youth and young adult ministry and then present these ideas to parish leaders to see which could work.

Colella also stressed the importance of community relationships in a parish in the context of evangelization.

"People don't want to be alone, sitting with a thousand people in a church, but not knowing any of them," said Colella.

He also cited the cardinal's comparison of knowing Jesus or just knowing about him.

"I think there's an element that you can know your church or name your parish, or you can actually be in relationship with the people in that parish," he added.