Women pray during the conference's opening prayer service. Pilot photo/ Mark Labbe
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MILTON -- An estimated 200 people attended a conference on evangelization and discipleship at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, Nov. 18, that featured talks aimed at providing attendees with additional tools for spreading the Catholic faith.
Entitled "Intentional Discipleship: Moving from Maintenance to Mission," the conference was sponsored by Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Evangelization and Discipleship.
Both beginning and ending in prayer, the conference featured two keynote talks, and allowed attendees to participate in breakout sessions. Lunch was also provided to those who attended.
It is the first year the Office of Evangelization and Discipleship has sponsored such a conference, although organizers hope it will become a yearly event.
Bobby Vidal, the director of Evangelization and Lay Formation at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Santa Clarita, Calif., offered the first of the conference's keynote talks.
He spoke about his own parish, and the growth it has experience over the last several years thanks, in part, to a revitalized focus on mission.
In 2010, said Vidal, 4,201 people were registered with the parish, and the collection for the month of May was $65,000. That increased steadily for the course of the next several years, he said, and in 2017, the parish has seen 6,208 people registered and a May collection of $168,000.
The sharp uptick in both parishioners and revenue was due in part to the parish becoming a "mission-driven parish," as opposed to a "maintenance-driven" one, said Vidal.
A mission-driven parish, Vidal explained, is one that reaches outside of the parish community, communicating to people in a way that both parishioners and outsiders can understand. It hosts events that will attract non-Catholics and Catholics who have fallen away from the Church, and creates a community of discipleship. A maintenance-driven parish simply sustains current structures in the parish, looking more inward than outward.
As an example of actions a mission-driven parish might take, Vidal spoke about a classic car show his own hosted over the summer. Costing the parish only about $500, Vidal said the car show brought between 1,200 to 1,500 people to the parish church to see the classic cars displayed outside. The parish offered tours of the facilities to attendees, and while most of those who attended were not Catholic, Vidal said, a number of people went on the tours.
At least one person who went on the tour, a former Catholic, told Vidal that stepping foot into the church again during the tour was relaxing, peaceful, and calming, and that she planned on engaging the faith once more.
Reaching out to outsiders through general-interest events like a car show can help a parish evangelize, said Vidal, and can help create a community of discipleship.
Following Vidal's talk, attendees were invited to take part in two breakout sessions, with a lunch in-between. A number of breakout sessions, most of which were run by local clergy and archdiocesan staff, were offered -- ranging from topics that included how to more effectively minister to young adults or teens, ways that a parish can better engage parents, and the difference between evangelization and the new evangelization.
The second keynote talk was given after the sessions by Sean Bryan, best known as a competitor on the television show "American Ninja Warrior." Thanks to a shirt he has worn on the show featuring a likeness of the Vatican flag, he is also known as the "Papal Ninja."
Bryan, who is also director and development team member at the Lay Mission Project, spoke about the call to holiness that each one of us hears, and the important role of the laity in responding to that call. Quoting heavily from the Vatican II document "Lumen Gentium," Bryan described how everyone is called to participate in Jesus' redemptive mission, noting that everything that we do, including everyday actions, can be made redemptive.
He used his own life as an example, noting that even by in participating in "American Ninja Warriors," he was helping to spread the faith.
During his time on the competitive show, he not only wore likeness of the Vatican flag, but he also spoke about his faith and prayed in front of the cameras, turning a very secular action into one that also helped evangelize.
To respond to God's call to holiness, Bryan said, a lay person does not need to live in a constant state of prayer inside a church.
"It's okay -- and good, and holy, and your call -- to go out and not spend too much time in church," he said.
Faith and everyday actions should be intertwined, he said, and everything a person does in his or her life should relate back to the faith.
The scriptures shouldn't just be read, but they should be interpreted, brought into one's life and internalized "until you really start to see how revelation illumines your secular commitments," he said.
Speaking to The Pilot during the conference, Karen Biles, a member of the evangelization team at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Brookline, said the talks she heard over the course of the day were "very powerful and very moving."
She came to the conference to learn how to "evangelize people more properly," she said, and will be taking what she learned back into her parish.
"There are really a lot of tools that I have gotten today that will help me in bringing Jesus into people's lives," she said.