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Students from the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, look up Scripture passages on their cellphones during a group discussion Jan. 3 at a conference on evangelization sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in Chicago .CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

FOCUS event spurs evangelization efforts

About 30 priests, deacons, lay people and archdiocesan staff spent five days in Chicago earlier this month, tapping into an evangelization program that has brought thousands of college students closer to Christ and equipped them to be evangelists.
 
They attended a Jan. 2-6 Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) conference that included about 8,000 FOCUS students and a “lifetime mission” track for non-students, applying FOCUS methods to evangelization at home, in parishes and in workplaces.
 
For years, “the college students have been spoiled having this training all to themselves,” said Jim Jansen, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the archdiocese, who worked for FOCUS for almost 20 years.
 
The conference was inspirational and practical, Jansen said, offering real-life suggestions for evangelization. For example, one talk emphasized the importance of Catholics sharing their stories of encountering or re-encountering Jesus. Being able to talk about what God has done in people’s lives is one of the best ways to evangelize, Jansen said, but “for most Catholics that’s a habit that needs cultivation and some coaching.”
 
The archdiocese has a long history with FOCUS, which has missionaries on college campuses in Omaha, Wayne and Lincoln. Graduates, some now with young families, are trained in evangelization and “are enthusiastic to bring others along,” Jansen said.
 
PASTORAL VISION
 
And as the archdiocese acts on the promise of its pastoral vision of “One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy,” Jansen is eager for parish members across the archdiocese to get exposure to the training. In addition to urging parish leaders and others to travel to Chicago, the archdiocese is offering two
Missionary Discipleship 101 programs inspired by the conference.
 
One will be held Jan. 27 at St. James Parish in Omaha; the other March 24 at St. Mary Parish in Norfolk. Information is available at archomaha.org/missionary.
 
Among those attending the Chicago gathering were Father James Keiter, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fordyce, St. Boniface Parish in Menominee and St. Joseph Parish in Constance, and three members of his parishes’ evangelization team; and Deacon Subby Enzolera and Jackie Kmiecik, members of St. Bernadette Parish in Bellevue.
 
When Father Keiter’s parishes began a renewed emphasis on evangelization last year, they sought help from Jansen, who suggested attending the FOCUS conference.
 
Father Keiter said FOCUS’ evangelization philosophy of “win, build, send” mirrors the archdiocese’s pastoral vision. To “win” souls for Jesus is akin to having them encounter him, Father Keiter said, to “build” disciples is equipping them and to “send” them is living mercy.
 
POWERFUL ENCOUNTER
 
Sharing an encounter with Christ is powerful, Father Keiter said, and if it’s shared with just two or three people, and they are led to God, they in turn will evangelize others. That process will continue to draw souls, two or three more each time, in a “spiritual multiplication” that could be “astronomical,” he said. “We can change the world.”
 
GROWING EFFORTS
 
Father Keiter said his evangelization team will kick off efforts during Lent, with team members hosting small-group Bible studies in their homes, inviting fellow parishioners to join them. Father Keiter also has been addressing evangelization in homilies and encouraging Christians Encounter Christ weekends for parishioners.
 
St. Bernadette earlier this month began a ChristLife Catholic evangelization ministry that emphasizes discovering, following and sharing Christ with others. The conference’s focus on “personal evangelization was very valuable to us,” Deacon Enzolera said.
 
“One person doesn’t have to evangelize the world,” he said. “You don’t have to do it all, just get it started. It’s not about learning facts, dos and don’ts. It’s about building a relationship with Jesus and sharing it with others.”

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