WCR FILE PHOTO

Archbishop Richard Smith urged youth ministers to open doors for young people.

March 19, 2012
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

Youth ministers are "agents of that encounter with the Lord that changes everything," the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops told a youth ministry conference in Ottawa March 10.

Speaking on the new evangelization, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said evangelization is the raison d'être for the Church. "We exist to announce the wonderful, exhilarating truth of Jesus Christ."

In the new evangelization, the message remains the same, but as Pope John Paul II said in the 1990s, it is new in ardour or zeal, new in method and new in expression, he said.

Smith quoted Pope Benedict in his homily at his installation, where he said: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

He told the 300 youth ministers at the Canadian Catholic Youth Ministry Network Conference that he recognized the challenges they face.

"Many of our young people feel the opposite: they don't feel known; they don't feel wanted; they don't feel as if they count" and they must let each one know "they are embraced by the love of God."

In his first encyclical, Pope Benedict said understanding that love does not come from a thought or a concept, but through an encounter, "something that happens when we meet the Lord Jesus Christ," Smith said.

"When we meet him everything changes," he said.

Youth ministers have a responsibility to lead young people to a personal encounter with Christ where they are "imbued with a hope that nothing else can give."

BE CONVINCED

"To do this, we must be convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ," he said. We must meet the one who has come to meet us and transformed our lives.

Smith pointed out the Latin meaning for the beginning of the Apostles' Creed "Credo in Deum" is more accurately translated "I believe into God."

"Faith is a total gift of self, a self-surrender in trust into the hands of Jesus Christ," he said. It is this kind of faith which will "help young people meet Jesus" and through whom they will realize they are loved, willed and necessary.

He spoke of Peter's encounters with Jesus both before and after the Resurrection, how Jesus knew Simon, "saw to the truth of who he is," and gave him the name Peter.

Being known, loved and forgiven through a personal encounter with the Lord leads to zeal, he said.

JESUS SHOWS US

After the Resurrection, Jesus shows Peter where to cast the net. "He shows us where to put down the nets and what we need to do," the archbishop said.

"We don't give ourselves zeal or ardour – it comes from the Lord and knowing that he is with us," he said.

Pope Benedict, in his apostolic letter on the Year of Faith, used the image of a door, and said, "The door of faith is always open for us."

"The goal of evangelization is to invite people to step through the door of faith," he said.

Under new methods, Smith listed three categories of doors: doors of invitation, doors of crisis and doors of the social media.

The pope has used his many invitations into halls of government, such as his visit to Westminster Hall in London, to preach with humility, gentleness and kindness, despite hostile media in the run-up to his visits, Smith said.

OPENING DOORS

"What are the doors opening for you?"

The archbishop said he has received invitations to visit schools where opportunities came up to address some deep faith questions. He said he relates "every question back to the fundamental truth of who Jesus is."

Speaking to a Grade 12 class he came in contact with their media world – music by Lady Gaga, TV shows they watch, the popular personalities they look to.

He said he asked the students whether this music and these programs "lead you closer to the Lord or away?"

"Away," they admitted.

He also spoke of the surreal experience of speaking at Theology on Tap, among people drinking beer and watching sports on the big screens "and getting asked questions about the Trinity."

Moments of crisis are another occasion in which significant questions arise, he said. These crises can include the death of a friend, sickness, even the economic crisis.

There is also a crisis of authority in the Church, and the duty to reach out to anyone who has been hurt by members of the Church, he said.

This crisis is an opportunity to explain the truth of the Church and the mystery of the Body of Christ, which is composed of sinners with Christ as head. The Church cannot be defined by the mistakes of her members, but Christ, the Risen Lord, continues to work all things for good, he said.

The crisis of the family is another door through which to speak of the truth of marriage, human sexuality and the human family as the domestic church, he said. For those youth in dysfunctional families, Jesus is a friend and the Church is family, he said.