Addresses ministry leaders in the U.S. Military gathered for Mid-Atlantic Congress
Archbishop Timothy Broglio talks to Catholic ministry leaders in the U.S. military Thursday, March 7, at the Baltimore Hilton.
BALTIMORE, Md.—His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, encouraged Catholic ministry leaders in the U.S. military on Thursday to teach as much by action as words. “We evangelize by how we live and love,” Archbishop Broglio said in a talk to catechists from military bases across the eastern United States. The catechists were gathered in Baltimore for the 2nd Annual Mid-Atlantic Congress – Forming Catholic Leaders for Faith-filled Service, co-sponsored by the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in partnership with the National Leadership Roundtable for Church Management.
On January 25, Archbishop Broglio issued a decree promulgating a new religion curriculum guide for religious education programs, grades Pre-K to 8, of the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS). The new curriculum guide becomes effective on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. In a letter to the nation’s Catholic military chaplains, Archbishop Broglio said the new curriculum guide, Forming Disciples for the New Evangelization: Archdiocesan Religion Curriculum Guide, “will ensure the complete, systematic, and consistent teaching of the Catholic faith throughout this global archdiocese.”
Joining Archbishop Broglio at the Mid-Atlantic Congress to discuss the new curriculum with catechetical leaders were Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins, Episcopal Vicar for Veterans Affairs; Dr. Mark Moitoza, Vice-Chancellor for Evangelization; and Mr. Jose Amaya, Director of Faith Formation. Dr. Moitoza and Mr. Amaya also led sessions on Saturday, the final day of the Congress.
Here follows the complete text of Archbishop Broglio’s message to catechists:
Open the Door of Faith
Your Excellency and Brother Priests,
Dr. Moitoza, Mr. Amaya,
Esteemed Catechists and Coordinators of Religious Education,
Sisters and Brothers all,
When I was a newly ordained deacon, my Bishop sent me to Nigeria to experience the missionary dimension of the Church first hand. In Udi Parish where I was sent everything was done in the Igbo language, which I neither spoke nor understood. The young, local priest decided that the best thing this blond blue eyed deacon could do would be to baptize.
He would drive us to a mission station and position himself to hear confessions. The catechist, having received instructions, would accompany me to the chapel where several adults and children waited. The ritual was on one of those laminated participation cards you would give to the people here. I would read the dialogue in English, the catechist would translate and the faithful would respond. Then the catechist would give me the English version of the response.
Sometimes I wondered if he was only telling me what he wanted me to hear. I was, however, completely dependent on these catechists. I baptized more people in those two months than I have done in my 35+ years as a priest.
Crucial was the role of the catechist: registration of the catechumens or the babies, instruction and preparation, interpreter in my case, and keeper of the sacramental records. Truly your situation is different, but the role of the catechist is essential to the ministry of handing on the faith.
For that reason I accepted the proposal to spend some time with you at this Religious Education Congress. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of your role. I am grateful to those at Loyola Press who have facilitated our gathering this evening.
For those of us with a bit more snow on the rooftop, we can tell you all about the Baltimore Catechism and perhaps even the name of the woman religious who, after our parents, instilled in us an understanding of our faith. Sister Mary Barbara is still alive and still teaching youngsters although not in a classroom.
It would, therefore, be very difficult to exaggerate the importance of what you do in your ministry of passing on the faith. Yours is, of course, a response to the imperative of your baptism, by which you became living stones that build up the Body of Christ. No one can stand idle in that mission.
You also extend the teaching ministry of your bishop and pastors. When I was ordained twelve years ago less twelve days, two deacons held open the Sacred Scriptures above my head. It was a reminder that I should be permeated with the Word of God so that I could effectively preach and teach that Word to those entrusted to my pastoral care. I realize that ministry by making use of your time and talents and your baptismal commitment to traedere or pass on what I have received. I earnestly sought to establish an archdiocesan religious education curriculum, because I perceive the importance of offering our people an organized system of opening and keeping wide open the door of faith in a systematic way. It is important that what Johnny and Jane are learning in the third grade at Wiesbaden is the same thing that they will study at Leavenworth when they PCS.
It is a challenge to promote a program on a world-wide scale. I do not want anyone to think that his or her efforts have been heretofore unfruitful. However, what we do well, we can always do better. The new curriculum that José Amaya will brilliantly illustrate is an attempt to facilitate what we do on an archdiocesan level. It is so appropriate that we have this opportunity in the context of a Year of Faith.
What the Year of Faith invites us to do is be rekindle our excitement for the gift of faith and to develop our enthusiasm for this treasure that we carry in earthen vessels. Pope Benedict urged us at the beginning of his pontificate to enliven the pace of our pilgrimage: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.” (Benedict XVI, Homily at beginning of Petrine ministry, 24.IV.05.)
If indeed we are animated in what we do, then the response will be forthcoming. We have something to offer that no one else has: the message of salvation and life proclaimed by Jesus Christ who suffered, died, and rose for us. That is not an ordinary truth. It is life-giving and life-changing. We cannot believe it and then not be eager for others to hear it. We are a people of faith and hope and those people, the Holy Father reminded us during his visit here in April of 2008, lead different lives.
Never believe that you are just a catechist. A catechist shares the message of life. A catechist opens the door of faith. A catechist illumines the path to truth and life. A catechist’s role and those who direct him or her or organize the program is vital to the life of the Church.
If you do not believe me, ask yourself why I would always include a visit to the religious education program when I can during my pastoral visits? Ask yourself why I would raise the money to have three staff members who dedicate large portions of their time to facilitate the handing on of the faith? Ask yourselves why I will not endorse a priest for a contract unless there is a full Catholic program, including RE at the installation? It is all because you are vital to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.
Now, of course, the society to which we announce these words of truth is not necessarily receptive. In Porta Fidei the Holy Father acknowledged that fact: “It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied. Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 2.)
We recognize the reality of our world and the opposition to the message of faith nurtured by the growth of secularism, hedonism, and materialism. Perhaps we even experience some of those effects in our personal situations.
To quote the recent Synod of Bishops on the new Evangelization: “Let us allow ourselves to be enlightened by a page of the Gospel: the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn. 4:5-42). There is no man or woman who, in his or her life, has not been like the woman of Samaria, next to a well with an empty pail and the hope of finding the fulfillment of the deepest desire of her heart, that which alone can give full meaning to human existence. Today many are the wells that offer to quench the thirst of a person, but it is important to discern so as to avoid polluted water. It is important to orient the search ably so as not to be the victim of delusions, which can be destructive.”
We all recognize that there are many wells and we must be prepared both to offer clean water, but also to make sure that our efforts are rewarded, that is, that we consistently invite others to drink from the well of the Church, the only one that offers the water of life. That obliges us to make our offering attractive, to reach out to those who thirst, and to continue to offer the water of life.
Obviously, you are all prepared catechists and know what you are doing, but the Year of Faith invites us to deepen our understanding of the faith. As teachers you know how to prepare, but you also recognize that renewal is essential to keeping you up-to-date with what is best “on the market”.
The water of life is not stagnant. It is ever new and refreshing. I was impressed at the European Military Youth Catholic Conference last summer that the young people prepared a panel and solicited questions from the participants. They researched the answers and passed the more complicated questions on to the priests present. The exercise was effective, because it drew from the interest of the group and also obliged some of the group to research and discover responses.
As an Archdiocese we have also been inviting Catholics on military installations to challenge each other with the Catholic Quiz. These opportunities offer us ways to encourage growth and deepen understanding.
Of course, nothing replaces the witness of our lives. Look at no. 6 of Porta Fidei and consider its invitation. “The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us. The Council itself, in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, said this: While “Christ, ‘holy, innocent and undefiled’ (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), but came only to expiate the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17)… the Church … clasping sinners to its bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. The Church, ‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But by the power of the risen Lord it is given strength to overcome, in patience and in love, its sorrow and its difficulties, both those that are from within and those that are from without, so that it may reveal in the world, faithfully, although with shadows, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light.
“The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.… Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17).” (Ibid., 6.)
It is useful to hear that passage from the letter, because it reminds us of a basic truth. The Gospel is preached by men and women who live it. The power of witness converted the known world to Christianity in a period before the advent of modern means of communication, transportation, and printing. Example is powerful and can be life-giving. Admittedly, we live in a world where those who control the mass media and dominate culture force us into a counter-cultural attitude. They do not support the Gospel and render catechesis more difficult. However, that only urges us to be more resourceful and recommit ourselves, beginning with our own example—always the best teacher.
We can make a difference and we must believe that and give reason for our hope. We draw our strength from the encounter with the Risen Lord in the Eucharist. Remember the disciples on the road to Emmaus? Their hearts burned as Jesus explained the Scriptures. They begged Him to stay with them and the recognized Him in the Eucharist.
Note their reactions. They left Jerusalem in the aftermath of the death and burial of the Lord. They were despondent, had lost hope, and thought that all was lost. Their reaction was to leave, to abandon Jerusalem.
The first reaction after the encounter with the Risen Lord was to return and take up their mission anew. We meet the Risen Lord in the Eucharist. He gives us strength to open the door of faith and hold it open for others to enter. Draw on that strength and accomplish your mission, even in the face of challenges and discouragement.
Recalling the importance of the catechists in my initial ministry as a deacon in Nigeria, allow me to conclude with an example from my recent pastoral letter for the Year of Faith: Seek Peace, I used the example of the Centurion, a military officer, to insist on the notion of faith and witness:
1. Complete trust in Jesus’ ability to heal his servant, soldier, or son;
2. Recognition of the use of authority and his unworthiness;
3. Cultural sensitivity to the customs of Jewish believers;
4. Witness was public: his soldiers could see and hear and wonder at the actions of their Commanding Officer.
Yes, we preach the Gospel explicitly to those entrusted to our catechetical ministry, but we also “preach” silently by faithfully living our faith in the concrete challenges of our existence 24/7. We evangelize by how we live and love. The great counsel of St. Francis of Assisi is as valid today as it was some 900 years ago: “preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words.
The AMS was created as an independent archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985 as the only Catholic jurisdiction responsible for endorsing and granting faculties for priests to serve as chaplains in the U.S. military and VA Medical Centers.
AMS-endorsed priests serve at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, making the AMS the nation’s only global archdiocese. AMS-endorsed chaplains also serve at 153 VA Medical Centers throughout the U.S.
The AMS service population also includes American Catholic civilians working for the federal government in 134 countries, but currently, due to limited resources, the AMS cannot adequately serve this population.
Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on the AMS to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs.
For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, visit www.milarch.org, the only official Web site for Catholics in the military and for the Cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M.