by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Don’t let the languid pace of parish life in the summertime fool you. Something really big is on its way, and parishioners all over the archdiocese are getting ready for it.
Pastors and representatives from every parish in the archdiocese have been preparing for an event that promises to have a huge impact on the lives of all archdiocesan Catholics.
The event, called “Enflame Our Hearts: Be Disciples, Make Disciples,” will be an archdiocesan-wide convocation to be held from Oct. 3-5 at the Overland Park Convention Center. It is expected to be the largest gathering of Catholic leadership in the history of the local church.
At this working meeting of volunteers, almost 1500 delegates from more than 100 parishes and parish clusters, religious orders and Catholic agencies will work, pray and plan.
And try to set the world on fire.
Calling all disciples
The gathering was inspired by a national effort of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which held a convocation of diocesan representatives from around the country in 2017.
The impetus for that meeting, said Deacon Dana Nearmyer, which representatives from the archdiocese attended, came both from St. John Paul II’s new evangelization and Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Joy of the Gospel.”
Now, said the archdiocesan director of evangelization, it is hoped that the local convocation can take it a step further.
“The [archdiocesan] convocation is designed to be a catalytic event for parishes and organizations to launch a wave of missionary disciples,” said Deacon Nearmyer.
Not only will it spur locally what was initiated nationally, but the emphasis on training missionary disciples dovetails nicely with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s own 10-year mutually shared vision, with its five pastoral priorities.
The five include conversion, evangelization, all forms of Catholic education, outreach to those in need and stewardship.
The convocation will focus on three areas, which are also the three key initiative goals of the mutually shared vision: creating a culture of evangelization (Enflame Our Hearts), strengthening marriage and family life (Enflame Our Homes), and encouraging engagement in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (Enflame Our Communities).
“We believe this will go into a three-year outflow into the archdiocese — that each year, for the next three years, our motto and mission is to Enflame Our Hearts, Homes and Communities, and each parish will decide how they want to do that in their own, unique way,” said Deacon Nearmyer.
Don’t forget your homework
The delegates have a lot to do, however, before the start of the convocation, said Deacon Nearmyer.
The delegates will be reading Scripture, praying and studying assigned material on their own. They are expected to arrive at the convocation with a personal plan for evangelization.
But the delegates are also supposed to meet at least three times with their entire delegation to formulate the parish’s or organization’s plan based on three meeting agendas provided to them as templates.
“I feel the convocation is going to be a time to bring all our parishes together, and the delegates together, to unite in prayer and seek what the Holy Spirit has for each of us individually as a parish,” said Susan Stallbaumer, co-leader of the 18-member delegation from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca.
“Hopefully, the outcome will be the delegate who comes with an open heart and mind . . . ready to do what God is preparing us to do in our parishes,” she said.
St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood already has a pretty good parish evangelization plan but they are eager to improve it, said Chris Talarico, one of the parish’s 32 delegates.
“At St. Michael’s, we have a little advantage because we’ve been trying to do evangelization for some time now,” he said. “A lot of what we’re talking about, we’ve fine-tuned already.
“[Pastor] Father Brian Schieber has done a fantastic job over the past couple of years talking about how important evangelization is, ever since the archbishop rolled his 10-year plan out five years ago.”
The biggest challenge they’ve faced so far is time, said Talarico. It’s difficult to get people together at one place and time for meetings.
Still, the process has produced “fruits.” The delegates have a clearer idea of what they need to do.
“The biggest fruit is that people are starting to understand that evangelization is not something we do,” said Talarico. “It is something we live. We’ve got to change our hearts — not just check off a box and say, ‘I evangelized today so I don’t have to do any more.’
“It’s a way of life.”
Chuck Jansen is a member of the archdiocesan planning committee for Enflame and has been a member of his parish’s evangelization team for three years. He’s also a member of Ascension Parish in Overland Park’s 30-delegate Enflame delegation.
To assist the delegates, the archdiocesan evangelization office has provided them with a variety of planning materials. The key resource has been the “Convocation 2019 Leader’s Guide.”
“We are trying to implement the plan the archdiocese put out in order to properly prepare people for the Enflame convocation,” said Jansen. “We’re following [it] pretty closely. The archdiocese told us it’s like a large tool kit. We can take whatever tools are appropriate for our parish.”
So far, the planning has been productive.
“We came up with the common denominators for evangelization,” he said. “We came up with nine points. We talked a lot about the makeup of our parish [demographics]. We talked a lot about preparing them, asking them to read the manual and identify their faith journey, own their faith journey and share their faith journey.
“You don’t have to be a theologian or a scholar,” said Jansen, “but you do have to know, own and share your faith journey.”
Ascension Parish has had an evangelization plan for three years, and the Enflame convocation planning process is a great opportunity to improve that plan.
“We want our delegates to be a part of the parish plan,” said Jansen. “We have a parish plan in place but we want them to prune, and add, and delete and help shape it.”
‘Winning . . . by listening’
The convocation is not meant to be an end in itself. Rather, it is supposed to be a beginning.
The delegates will return to their parishes and organizations with two goals: first, to make missionary disciples, and then to build a culture of evangelization in the archdiocese.
In their work as missionary disciples, Catholics will embed themselves in the lives of the people they serve, and do “deep listening,” said Deacon Nearmyer.
“The real entry point to all of this is to authentically listen to God through prayer and Scripture and ask God what we should say to that person, and how to listen to them very lovingly,” he said.
“We win people’s trust by listening, so we have to invest in people,” he said. “And the number one way of investing in people is by listening to them.”