One diocese hosts event to help Catholics take the first step
Picking up my roast beef sandwich at the lunch tent, I looked around and saw more than 1,200 men and women enjoying the beautiful fall day. They were spread out on the lawn of the Hylton Memorial Chapel in Virginia: eating, laughing and discussing the morning’s talks by Arlington diocesan priest Fr. Juan Puigbo and well-known Catholic converts Jennifer Fulwiler and Dwight Longenecker. While the atmosphere at the first ever "Risk Jesus" hosted by the Arlington diocese was laid-back — even joyful — participants were being challenged in a new way.
The first challenge came not at the event itself, but in 2012, within the pages of Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s pastoral letter Go Forth with Hearts on Fire. He writes, “My foremost prayer is for the dawning of a New Evangelization here in the Diocese of Arlington. … Consider the implications of every Catholic introducing just one person to Christ.”
But the Arlington Diocese didn’t leave the challenge at Bishop Loverde’s heartfelt words, they provided the opportunity for parishioners to introduce (or re-introduce) another person to Christ. Invitations went out across the Diocese, asking everyone to attend a spiritually-enriching event themselves and to ask a non-practicing neighbor, colleague, friend or family member to come as well.
Risk Jesus was clearly designed to make parishioners’ guests feel at home. Over 75 enthusiastic volunteers from many parishes rolled up their sleeves to “make it happen,” according to Soren Johnson, the Special Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelization and Media. The event was not held at a Catholic Church and, notably, no Mass was scheduled during the day’s events. There was little that would divide Catholics and non-Catholics and make a non-believer feel out of place. No responses to remember, no sitting out during Communion; Catholics and non-Catholics were united as they entered into this day meant to encounter Christ.
The morning sessions included talks that very closely corresponded to Johnson’s description of evangelization as “sharing with others your own encounter with Christ and how He has changed you, so that they too will be invited into that relationship through the Church.” This was the second challenge — the second risk — proposed to all participants by the speakers. Each person was asked to consider Christ, to consider the reasonableness of faith compared to the empty promises the world offers.
Jennifer Fulwiler, well-known blogger and author of “Something Other Than God,” recalled the story of her own conversion, walking the audience through the many stages of her journey to Christ. One anecdote she shared was the opinion of a prominent atheist that an adult pig had more value than a human child, because the pig was more intellectually advanced. When she considered the implications of his words, she was challenged to reconsider her worldview. This same proposal to reconsider their faith, or lack thereof, was made to each attendee.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker, another well-known author and blogger, told the story of his journey from an Anglican priest to a Catholic one. The road was longer than he had imagined it would be, but along the way, he came to understand the loving manner in which God plans for our lives.
The morning culminated with a rousing talk by Fr. Juan Puigbo who reminded the audience that each person, regardless of his state in life, is called to holiness. The afternoon included music by Catholic artist Marie Miller, a panel discussion with the speakers and Bishop Loverde and time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Priests were available to hear Confessions throughout the day. A number of prayer teams were also available for those desiring a chance to share a concern, and pray with others.