by Steve Johnson
ATCHISON — The third annual Symposium for Advancing the New Evangelization, hosted by Benedictine College’s Institute for Missionary Activity here, brought more than 200 people together to discuss ways to bring Christ’s message to the classroom, parish, workplace and the general public.
The event, held March 21 and 22 on Benedictine’s campus, attracted speakers from as far away as Geneva and Washington, D.C. It featured three keynote addresses and 52 breakout sessions. While predominantly Catholic, the conference also included Eastern Orthodox and evangelical Protestant presenters.
“There was a real sense of interdisciplinary dialogue this year,” said David Trotter, Benedictine’s director for Mission & Ministry and director of the Institute for Missionary Activity. “It helped everyone in attendance encounter the person of Jesus Christ in the sacraments, in conversation and in intellectual formation. It created a vision for them to be leaders in culture creation in their own communities back home.”
President Stephen D. Minnis said the symposium is the latest example of Benedictine College’s leadership role in the church.
“Benedictine College is truly the flagship college of the new evangelization and this great event shows that. This was a great opportunity for leading Catholic intellectuals, missionaries and church leaders from across the country to share ideas for the new evangelization.”
“I thought it was providential that the symposium fell on the feast of [the death of] St. Benedict,” Trotter added. “It profiled the primary role that the Benedictine order plays in the new evangelization, tying the creation of culture from these abbeys more than a thousand years ago to the culture we are creating for the new evangelization today.”
The theme of the conference was “The Transcendentals as a Preamble to the Faith.” Trotter explained that human beings experience a desire for the fundamental attributes of being — especially truth, goodness and beauty — such that they are never satisfied. Philosophers call these “the transcendentals,” and Trotter said our desire for unconditional truth, goodness and beauty reveal the existence of the soul and, ultimately, of God.
The three keynote speakers were: Dr. Denis McNamara, assistant director of the Liturgical Institute, University of St. Mary of the Lake, Chicago; Dr. David Bentley Hart, author, theologian, philosopher and cultural commentator; and Dr. Regis Martin, professor of theology at the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
Martin, who spoke on the evening of March 21, talked about how the experience of beauty renews and refreshes.
“The more something is beautiful, the more it refers one to something else,” he said. “It is the office of beauty to mediate the distance between the world and God.”
Hart, the author of “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies” (Yale University Press), started the main day of symposium sessions with his address on March 22.
McNamara, the final keynote speaker, closed the symposium that evening with a lively presentation on church architecture, accompanied by images of the world’s most beautiful — and least beautiful — churches. He spoke of entering Atchison and seeing the spires of St. Benedict’s Church and the abbey.
“Those buildings tell a story. You know right away who made them and what they are for,” he said. Not so with many churches.
“Joyful and festive. That’s what a church should be,” he concluded. “A church is God’s glory being manifested through the material of the world.”
In addition to the three keynote speakers, presenters at the colloquium sessions were from a variety of different institutions, organizations and ministries and came from many walks of life, including artists, architects, engineers, businesspeople, theologians, philosophers, ministry practitioners and church leaders. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Abbot James Albers, OSB, from St. Benedict’s Abbey, also participated.