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New evangelization breakfast seeks to inspire
Hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University students, the event stressed the importance of bringing young people to the faith.
The new evangelization is all about encountering Christ, then sharing that encounter with others, said Curtis Martin, president and founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), at a prayer breakfast Dec. 5 at George Mason University in Fairfax.
In his keynote talk, Martin, who serves as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, said it is in that encounter where one can discover the fullness of his or her vocation and then become empowered to share the Catholic faith — evangelize — with others.
“Evangelization is just a big long essentially Greek word for sharing good news, but it seems to throw us off somehow,” Martin said. “It is an amazing thing to share the faith with somebody and watch them come alive.”
First launched at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., FOCUS is present in the form of 361 missionaries on 74 campuses in the United States, including George Mason and, as of this fall, the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
The missionaries’ job is to befriend students, help these students develop personal relationships with Christ, then send them forth to evangelize others.
This model, Martin said, is one that extends beyond the boundaries of a college campus.
“What’s being done on a college campus can, ought and needs to be done everywhere,” he said.
Inspiring others to evangelical action was a main motivating factor in holding Wednesday’s new evangelization breakfast, which was the first of its kind, said Rachel Brehm, FOCUS stewardship and special events manager.
“We wanted everyone to feel empowered to go out after this breakfast to do their own evangelization — to say, ‘There’s something I can do today or tomorrow. Now I know what I am called to and how I can do that,’” Brehm said.
“We wanted the whole community to be a part of that.”
An estimated 140 former and current missionaries; college and university students; alumni; and supporters from around the diocese attended the event, which was preceded by a rosary and Mass, celebrated by Msgr. Stuart W. Swetland.
Msgr. Swetland, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of the Cardinal Newman Society, said that now is the time for Catholics to “redouble our efforts” where evangelization is concerned.
This should “renew in us a desire to be ambassadors for Christ” — a calling that starts on college and university campuses.
During his talk, Msgr. Swetland cited a survey that highlighted the importance of evangelizing young people between the ages of 18 and 24. If people in that age group get serious about their faith, he said, they’re more likely to remain serious about it for life.
These young people “will be with us throughout their life as the most generous givers; as those most committed to our parishes and apostolates; as those who are most likely to volunteer first, to give of their time, to give of their talents to Christ and His kingdom,” he said. “They’ll be the ones who will form the families that will be on fire for Christ; who will raise up a new generation and a generation after that where the faith is handed on and taught and lived. If we don’t win the young men and women on our college campuses to Christ, none of that will happen.”
“Quite frankly, the church in America has been asleep at the wheel,” he added. “We have to admit our failures.”
The event was emceed by Thomas Peters, founder of the blog American Papist. Father Peter Nassetta, GMU chaplain and director of campus ministry, gave an opening prayer, and Father Greg Shaffer, Catholic chaplain at George Washington University in Washington, offered the closing prayer.
Father Nassetta said he appreciated FOCUS’ wide scope regarding evangelization.
“This isn’t just about what we’re doing on college campuses,” he said. “We want to teach college students so that this spreads. A passionate minority changes the world and that’s what we are. Hopefully, the minority gets a little bigger.”
Martin hopes those who attended the event take away encouragement, inspiration and a desire to engage more deeply in the new evangelization. FOCUS is just one specific outlet in which to do that, he said — but it’s an outlet that’s inspirational.
“There’s an enthusiasm that’s generated by watching God change young people’s lives,” he said. “That’s something that we’re eager to share with people.”
Crowe can be reached on Twitter @GCroweACH.