ATCHISON — Missionary activity is called for, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told attendees at the first big event of Benedictine College’s recently launched Institute for Missionary Activity, “not only in far away exotic places, but . . . right here in the United States and even in northeast Kansas.”
“Sadly, almost all of us know family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues,” he continued, “who left the active practice of the faith or even the church altogether.”
The inaugural Symposium for Advancing the New Evangelization, held March 23-24, brought top professors, field experts, and clergy from around the country to the Atchison campus as more than 200 participants listened to dozens of presentations.
Paper topics ranged from “Addressing Controversial Issues in the Church” to “The Role of Literature in the New Evangelization.”
But it was keynote speeches by Archbishop Naumann and Barbara Nicolosi Harrington that highlighted the symposium.
“Perhaps, what is most distinctively new about the new evangelization,” said the archbishop, “is those who are its target. In talking about the new evangelization, the church is referring to an outreach to what we may call ‘the in-betweeners.’”
“The church is always committed to traditional missionary activity — bringing the Gospel to people or groups who have never heard the Gospel,” he continued. “The Church often calls this her mission ‘ad gentes’ — ‘to the peoples’ or to the world. At the same time, the church has naturally understood an essential part of her mission is to provide pastoral care for those who are already devout practicing Catholics.
“Yet, Popes John Paul and Benedict have recognized a growing, but not clearly defined group in the middle: people with Christian roots where a living sense of the faith has been lost and who live lives far removed from Christ and his Gospel. This is the group to which the new evangelization is targeted.”
Harrington, the second keynoter, is an award-winning screenwriter who teaches at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif. She founded Act One in 1999 as a training program for Christians pursuing careers in the mainstream entertainment industry. Her vision is to change the culture of Hollywood as well as the content of the products it puts out.
In her address, said David Trotter, director of the Institute for Advancing the New Evangelization, “Barbara Nicolosi Harrington called the church to higher standards of artistic integrity.
“She talked about how truth and beauty in movies, for instance, could help convert culture. It was a riveting talk.”
In addition to the two keynote speakers and Benedictine College professors, presenters at the colloquium sessions hailed from a variety of different institutions, organizations, and ministries. These included the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, Benedictine University (Chicago), Justice for All, the University of Kansas, the Archdiocese of Omaha, Manhattan Christian College, the Center for Advanced Leadership and Catechetics, and OneBillionStories.com.
“I was amazed at the sheer diversity of topics covered,” said Kirsten Antonacci, a sophomore at Benedictine College and a volunteer worker at the symposium. “If there was a specific way to advance the new evangelization, it seemed like there was a presentation that addressed it.”
“The symposium really got me excited,” she added. “It encouraged me to believe that the future of the church is bright.”
The symposium was also a showcase for the college’s brand new Ferrell Academic Center, which opened on March 12 with new classrooms and faculty offices for four academic departments, including theology and philosophy, as well as administrative offices and a conference center.
Trotter hopes that the inaugural Symposium for Advancing the New Evangelization is just the beginning of the great work that Benedictine College’s Institute for Missionary Activity accomplishes for Christ and the church.
“The keynotes and the colloquium presentations were incredible,” Trotter said. “But for me, the real ‘magic’ of the symposium was in the personal conversations and small-group discussions.”
“Men and women shared great ideas with one another and asked each other thought-provoking questions,” he added. “The conversations and personal interactions stoked a real desire and commitment to advance the new evangelization.”