by Rick Cheek
I was sitting in an Applebee’s in St. Joseph, Misosuri, a few weeks ago with our rural outreach coordinator Angie Bitner and the diocesan youth director for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, Michael Nations.
We were on our way to Conception Abbey, Missouri, for the annual Region IX gathering of directors and ministry leaders. We were deep in conversation about life, evangelization and ministry in general when a couple of women sat down at the table next to us.
Anytime I have an opportunity to engage someone in conversation I generally do it. Here these two women, whom I’ve never met in my life, sat down next to me within an arm’s reach. How could I not say hello? Many times we would just prefer to order and eat our food and go on about our business, but not me. So I decided to say hello and asked how they were doing and what they were doing on a beautiful day like this.
The younger woman said she had just taken her mom in for an eye exam and they were just having a little lunch. I asked if they were from St. Joseph. She said, “No, from Hiawatha.” I asked if they knew Barb and Tony Stueve. They said they always sit in front of them at Mass.
I’ve known Barb and Tony from my days at St. Bernard in Wamego before they moved to Hiawatha. I’m always amazed at the connection our Catholic faith has when we least expect it.
I never would have had this beautiful conversation had I not taken that risk or opportunity to reach out to someone, whether they needed to be evangelized or not. In “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis said everyone is meant to evangelize. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
As we prepare to leave our religious education programs and schools for the summer, have you made plans to engage and evangelize your young people in their faith? Are you giving them the opportunity to encounter Christ in service trips such as Prayer and Action or Catholic HEART Workcamp? Have you signed them up for Camp Tekakwitha, which combines outdoor activities with a powerful spiritual instruction that brings them to a deeper relationship with Christ?
How can we expect our young people to take part in any of these if we never start the conversation and ask them?
So, in the words of Pope Francis, be joyful, be a witness, proclaim the Gospel and get out of your comfort zone and love people where they’re at.