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Commentary: Extreme sports and opportunities to evangelize

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Picture the scene: Skaters clad in helmets and pads, racing down a winding ice hill at speeds up to 40 mph, while tens of thousands of cheering spectators line the course with the Cathedral of St. Paul serving as a picturesque backdrop.

“Ice cross downhill” is one of the newest extreme sports gaining popularity around the world, and it’s coming to downtown St. Paul next month as part of the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship competition.

Fun and exciting to watch?

For sure.

An opportunity to practice the “new evangelization” that Pope Benedict XVI says is so urgently needed in today’s world?

Maybe — at least in one small way that shouldn’t be overlooked.

A survey a few years ago found that the percentage of Americans who professed no religion nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008 – jumping from 8.2 percent of the population to 15 percent. Some researchers estimate that “former Catholics” make up roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population.

These people — which include older teens and young adults — simply don’t see the relevance of religion for their day-to-day lives. Raised in an American culture that preaches materialism, moral relativism and pleasure above nearly all else, they often have a false perception of religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, as being too stodgy, too judgmental, too scandal-ridden and not at all fun.

They likely wouldn’t accept an invitation to attend a class about the catechism or hear a talk by a prominent Catholic speaker. But they might be enticed to attend an event like Crashed Ice — and here there is an opportunity to extend a further invitation.

The Cathedral of St. Paul isn’t a sponsor of the competition, but it’s allowing race organizers to use some of its property in the interest of being a good neighbor. The event also presents an opportunity to ratchet up hospitality efforts for any of the thousands of spectators who might want a closer look at this magnificent church that frames the race’s backdrop.

You might call it a “soft-sell” approach to evangelization, but it can be an effective way to make a connection with people who rarely, if ever, set foot inside a church door.

It’s not that much different than the community spirit and good image that’s cultivated by parish festivals, church-sponsored art exhibitions and concerts, and lavish feast day celebrations — like the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which, at many parishes, in addition to prayer, features festive songs, mariachi bands, dancers and delicious food.

These are places where churches could extend a further invitation to new faces in the crowd — perhaps to attend parish faith-sharing groups, book or movie discussion clubs, or question-and-answer sessions that help explain what Catholicism really means and that invite participants to enter more deeply into the faith and learn the beauty of what the church teaches.

All of these efforts can help dispel false notions that the church has nothing relevant to offer for living a fuller, better life and they would go a long way toward clearing up misperceptions of the church as stodgy and not at all fun.

Catholics like to have a good time and share the joy with others. Here’s how veteran Catholic reporter John Allen described it in a recent interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“I don’t think the Catholic Church gets enough credit for being … a lot of fun. There’s great warmth and laughter in most Catholic circles, a rich intellectual tradition, a vast body of lore, an incredible range of characters, a deep desire to do good, an abiding faith against all odds, an ability to go anywhere and feel instantly at home, and even a deep love of good food, good drink and good company. All that is part of the tapestry of Catholic life, but it rarely sees the light of day in commentary and reporting that focuses exclusively on crisis, scandal, and heartache.”

We need to invite more people — including fallen-away Catholics and inactive Catholics as well as teens and young adults absent from our churches — to experience the beauty and joy at the heart of our faith life. We need to show how our churches and other Catholic groups continue to enrich the local community. And, we need — when they are ready — to teach them again about the value in living a Catholic Christian life.

Those goals require creating more opportunities for evangelization and outreach as well as taking advantage of more unique opportunities — like Crashed Ice — that occasionally come racing into our neighborhoods.

This editorial appeared in the Dec. 8 edition of the Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was written by editor Joe Towalski. 

 

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Saturdays with Cardinal Foley

December 14th, 2011 Posted in Featured, Opinion Tags: ,

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Dialog editor

Cardinal John P. Foley had the ability to make faith a reasonable and happy choice in these skeptical times.

Well-named after his patron saint, John the Evangelist, Cardinal Foley, who died Dec. 11 at 76, drew people to God and the church through his cheerful personality and his clear, succinct explanations of the Catholic faith.

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We worship with mere words, whatever the translation

December 9th, 2011 Posted in Opinion Tags: , ,

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The Sunday Mass congregation I was in on the first Sunday of Advent responded to the priest’s opening greeting, “The Lord be with you,” with a booming, “And also with you.”

Oops, wrong! Time to look for that “cheat sheet,” the card from the Knights of Columbus with the appropriate English responses for the new translation of the Roman Missal.

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Letters to the Editor

October 28th, 2011 Posted in Letters, Opinion Tags: ,

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Willing to make donation for paper

I’ve noticed that the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is offered for sale in the local churches at $1 each.  While this may pose a hardship to some who desire the latest Catholic news, I do think that there are people like myself who would be willing to pay $1 for the privilege of continuing this prize-winning newspaper.

Maybe a free will donation box at each church would further help offset the production costs of this fine newspaper.  Not knowing the actual financial situation of the Dialog, I thought that I’d pass this on as a possible suggestion to ensure it’s continued publication.

Thanks for the great job that you do.

Leon J. Gratkowski

Middletown

 

Thanks for medal

I’m writing to express our thanks to Bishop Malooly, the Diocese of Wilmington, St. Jude the Apostle Church, its pastor, Father James D. Hreha and the people of St. Jude.

Margaret and I were honored by receiving the diocese’s Medal of Merit Oct. 16. We were so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude when told that we were to be so honored. We want to say that this honor was only deserved with the help of all the people of ministry in our parish with whom we have worked and who also deserve this honor.

James C. Cranwell

Milton

 

Message of Fatima is continuing

Thank you for the wonderful promotion of devotion to our Blessed Mother the Oct. 14 Dialog. This is a great month to reflect on her ongoing concern for us and the fact that the message of Fatima is not over.

Pope Benedict XVI at the esplanade of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 2010, made the statement that “we would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete” and renewed the appeal to listen to our Blessed Mother.  He ended his homily with “May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.

• Oct. 13, 2010, 33 miners are rescued from the depths;

• Oct. 13, 1917, is the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima at which time the Blessed Mother appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is patroness of Chile;

• Oct. 13 is the feast day of St. Edward the Confessor, before whose tomb the pope and archbishop prayed the previous September.

The appeal of Pope Benedict XVI at Fatima in 2010 seems a repeat of a similar appeal of another Pope Benedict in May of 1917 when he prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for peace in the world. A week later she first appeared at Fatima with the peace plan from heaven.

Joanne Laird

Wilmington

 

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Repentance and renewal

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The previous issue of The Dialog, Sept. 29, included two revealing reports about the state of the Diocese of Wilmington.

First, the front page featured Bishop Malooly’s statement that the diocese had funded a Settlement Trust for survivors of clergy childhood sexual abuse with $77.4 million.

The bishop also reported $5 million was being transferred to the Lay Pension Trust and an additional $5 million would be deposited in that trust by the end of 2011.

In emerging from more than 700 days in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the bishop said the diocese had met one of its goals — meeting its obligations to survivors of clergy sex abuse in a just and equitable manner — and he pledged to continue to work to make parishes and schools safe havens for young people, as a well as to comply in the coming months with other non-monetary terms of the settlement.

The bishop asked for prayers for the survivors and their families and also for the church of the Wilmington diocese, “God’s people who have been so supportive in these challenging times, and especially for the faithful clergy, all of whom have suffered because of the scandal of abuse of children.”

Second, inside the Sept. 29 Dialog was the story that the 2011 Annual Catholic Appeal counted $4.5 million pledges as of Sept. 15, surpassing its goal by nearly $476,000.

So, on page one was a summary of the diocese’s bankruptcy settlement and its financial payments for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy. Inside, there was a report on the support of parishioners to the Annual Catholic Appeal throughout the bankruptcy process.

Amidst a recounting of sin and sorrow in the diocese, there was also a story of forgiveness and affirmation in the continuing generosity of the diocese’s parishioners.

The criminal acts that led to one of the most “challenging times” the Diocese of Wilmington has faced are tragedies that can never be erased in survivors’ lives by the settlements they receive. The diocese has now made a financial secular penance for its sins, and continues on its path of contrition in its firm resolve to sin no more by protecting all children in its care.

Bishop Malooly has agreed in non-monetary provisions of the settlement to be a public penitent of sorts for the diocese by visiting each parish where abuse occurred in the past in an effort to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

Now is the time for all Catholics to act on the belief they proclaim in the forgiveness of sins when they recite the Nicene Creed and the Our Father in church.

So many parishioners, including those still so generous to the Appeal, have shown their willingness as Catholics to practice the forgiveness of sins, including for the church run by sinners for sinners.

True reconciliation, a difficult forgiveness, is a challenge for people on every side of the abuse crisis.

We can only pray that the people who were violated can be reconciled to God and find some peace and understanding in faith.

This time of transition in the Diocese of Wilmington, which Bishop Malooly has said will not be easy, can be a time of renewal, of rebirth.

While confessing our sorrow at the sins of church members and acknowledging our own faults, now is the time to be reconciled, to be reunited to the joys of the faith — the consolations of God’s love and mercy  — and to renew our hope in the Resurrection, which came through the gift of that first challenging time in the church, Christ’s crucifixion.

Ryan is editor/general manager of The Dialog.

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