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Speaker: Catholic educators are missionaries of the faith

Catholic educators are called to be missionary disciples and evangelizers who share their own experiences of the faith even as they explain church teaching, a nationally known author and educator said at a March 14 gathering of religious education and youth ministry leaders, pastors and archdiocese staff in Omaha.

The Catholic understanding of evangelization is "that it’s just sharing the good things we’ve found in Jesus," said Edward Sri, an associate professor and vice president of mission and outreach at the Augustine Institute in Denver, co-founder of Colorado-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and author of several books, including "Love Unveiled: The Catholic Faith Explained."

"So, to be effective, we need to be more than teachers; we need to be witnesses," he said.

"Use your own story in your teaching," Sri told about 40 people at the Archdiocesan Retreat and Conference Center. "Talk about what your faith means to you."

Pope Francis is concerned that too many Christians today are not seeking true discipleship and a daily encounter with Christ. "God is calling us all to sainthood," said Sri, who also was in the Omaha area to conduct a Lenten mission at St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion.

"We may feel pretty good about how we live our faith, but we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back because we follow the rules … that’s just the beginning," he said. "Jesus wants our hearts."

Bill Beckman, director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, sponsor of the talk, said Sri candidly assessed a challenge for evangelization in today’s world.

"There’s been a radical secularization in our culture which brings a separation from a religious sensibility or a faith perspective," Beckman said. "Very often the work we need to do has to begin with that realization.

"What the new evangelization means is reaching those people who are still around us in the church, but who haven’t really had an in-depth experience of Jesus.

"We need to reach those people … to bring that experience to them and still continue the older notion of evangelization, which is going out to those who have never heard the Gospel," Beckman said.

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