Column: Learn to create what Pope Francis calls a ‘culture of encounter’

Father Andrew Strobl is the archdiocesan director of evangelization.
Father Andrew Strobl is the archdiocesan director of evangelization.

by Father Andrew Strobl

One of my favorite nicknames is “First Called.”

In the seminary, I was one of many men in my class named Andrew. We
all shared that nickname in honor of St. Andrew the Apostle who is the Protocletus (the “First Called”).

In the Gospel of John, Andrew encounters Jesus after John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (Jn 1:35-37). Thankfully, Andrew immediately shares this encounter: “He first found his own brother Simon and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ Then he brought him to Jesus” (Jn 1:41-42). It was through the personal testimony of Andrew that his brother Simon came to follow Jesus Christ.

Andrew was the “first called,” not the “first and only called.” Jesus desired Simon to be his disciple and he used the personal testimony of Andrew to make the invitation.

A sincere personal testimony acts as a personal invitation. By hearing about another person’s encounter with Jesus, we are invited to have our own encounter with Jesus. Our own encounter will lead to our own testimony that can be shared with someone else, so the process of evangelization can continue one testimony at a time. Pope Francis refers to this process as a “culture of encounter.”

The Gospel of John describes another culture of encounter born when a Samaritan woman meets Jesus at a well. After she encounters Jesus, she shares her personal testimony with her community to great effect: “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman” (Jn 4:39).

This led to Jesus staying in her town and encountering the people himself. As a result, a culture of encounter was established: “Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world’” (Jn 4:41-42).

In order to encourage a more vibrant culture of encounter in northeast Kansas, the archdiocesan office of evangelization is offering a Lenten series, entitled “Sharing Your Personal Testimony.” We have asked three disciples of Jesus Christ, fervent to share with others, ways to prepare an effective personal testimony and seek out opportunities to share it.

Olivia Stear will share at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park on March 11. Renee Winkel will share at Christ the King Parish in Topeka on March 18. Michael Shirley will share at Savior of the World Pastoral Center on March 25. All sessions will be at 7 p.m. You can attend in person or through a live stream online.

More information can be found online at: www.arch kck.org/evangelization.

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