The nippy air on the morning of April 5 did not deter 449 Spanish-speaking pastoral leaders from twenty-seven parishes with Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Boston from gathering at St. Stephen Parish in Framingham for the Annual Congress of Catechesis and Evangelization. Neither did the time when they were expected to start arriving, 8:00 a.m. Some participants mentioned that they got up at ungodly hours to finish house chores and leave their families settled with the promise of a prompt return, pick up some friends and get on the road to be on time.
No grumpy faces or people questioning why their pastors asked them to attend when they could be doing something else. When arriving at St. Stephen's to join the group, I was welcomed by a strong handshake, then a hug; then more handshakes and more hugs. People around me were smiling and singing. The atmosphere was electrifying. The plan for the day consisted in reflecting on Pope Francis' recent apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel" with the help of two keynote presentations and thirteen workshops based on it -- each offered twice. I had reread the exhortation in preparation for a workshop I was invited to give on Christianity and humor. I came with many ideas to share about the joy of the Gospel. It soon became clear to me that these hundreds of Hispanic catechists and evangelizers, including a number of priests, nuns, and deacons, all together were living it! One thought then came to my mind. If Pope Francis were there he would not hesitate to say: "that's exactly what I had in mind!"
Joy is a gift from God. St. Paul reminds us that one of the fruits of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is joy (Galatians 5:22). Yes, Christian discipleship and joyfulness go hand in hand. Pope Francis opens his exhortation with the following words: "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness" ("The Joy of the Gospel," 1)
The April 5th congress was a glimpse of the vibrancy of Catholicism in many corners of the archdiocese, a reminder of what the Church can and should be. Over the years I have met countless Hispanic catechists and evangelizers in our archdiocese, many present at the congress. Their commitment to sharing the joy of the Gospel through catechesis is inspiring. These are the women and men who are passing on the faith to the fastest-growing sector in our local church. Most are immigrants. Many struggle in often harsh environments where much has to be negotiated to--literally--survive. Yet, in their parishes and families they are the indefatigable teachers who generously bring children, youth, and adults into an encounter with Jesus every week.
In a video-message in Spanish to all participants Cardinal Seán O'Malley commended their presence and service. He highlighted the importance of their work to build up the Church. I could not agree more. This is exactly what the New Evangelization is all about: forming strong communities of faith, beginning with families and parishes, where the joy of the Gospel permeates every area of our lives. Without a doubt, the joyful commitment of catechists and evangelizers gathered at the congress, along with that of thousands more in the archdiocese is essential to form such communities.
Hosffman Ospino, PhD is assistant professor of pastoral theology and religious education at Boston College. He is also the director of Graduate Programs in Hispanic Ministry.