Earlier this year, I received an invitation from Caritas in Veritate to participate in a global forum in Rome as a young professional. Caritas in Veritate is a global confederation of Catholic institutions, dedicated to recruiting, forming, mobilizing and engaging young volunteers, to bring charity in truth, and human progress to all people.
The goal of the forum is to serve youth and youth leaders around the world with a practical manual for reaching the next generation with the Gospel. The conference is under the patronage of Pontifical Council for New Evangelization and of the Urbaniana University. Upon receiving the invitation, my heart skipped a beat and I said yes immediately.
First, the thought of spending a weekend in Rome with Catholic leaders from around the world set my heart on fire. I was, and still am, eager to go beyond the familiar and enter into a new horizon of learning, growing, experiencing, and discovering. Second, I wanted to learn more about New Evangelization. The bible verse selected for the forum was Matthew 29:19-20 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. This verse is the mission of the Diocese of Orange.
About forty people attended the conference. Most in attendance were seasoned leaders (clergy and lay), theologians, and professors. Others were young adult leaders, young professionals, and university students.
The conference officially began on Friday, March 29, with a Mass at the tomb of St. Peter at the Basilica. We also had the opportunity to recite the Apostles’ Creed as a group in front of St. Peter’s tomb right after Mass. That experience is hard to put into words. A group of people from different parts of the world, united in faith in front of the resting place of the apostle where upon Jesus said he would build his church (Matthew 16:18).
We all know that St. Peter had to die for his faith in Jesus. He didn’t give his life up in the beauty of the basilica. If St. Peter was willing to die for his faith, the question for me and my generation is – are we willing to live for our faith?
Our schedule was full. The conversations were insightful and energetic. Every person brought with them charism and expertise that serve their community. We discussed common themes, methods, and principles, such as building communities where faith can flourish, the kerygma, the importance of listening, accompaniment vs. mentoring of young people, digital realities of today, historical and political climate, interfaith sharing, and many more subjects.
The conversations we had at the forum got me thinking – why am I Catholic?
Archbishop Fisichella shared with us that our baptism is our Easter. It is the public confession of our faith. He said, “baptism belongs to this moment. It is ‘I am baptized’ not ‘I was baptized.’” Archbishop Fisichella encouraged the faithful to understand their baptism, and out of that understanding, live out the Great Commission. Beyond sharing what we have, Christians are called to give ourselves, our being, when it comes to bringing the good news of Jesus.
At the forum in Rome, I was able to share my experiences of faith. I was a cradle Catholic. My parents are active Catholics and faith is a top priority. I was blessed to see their example growing up; but I had my moments of teenage rebellion.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to attend the MAGIS/World Youth Day in Madrid with Boston College as a student and as a youth reporter. I went to the pilgrimage indifferent to the Catholic faith. The thought of being a million “religious Catholics” made me feel suffocated. I went because one, I wanted to have the experience of being a youth reporter at a global event and two, it was my ticket to rediscover spirituality and faith outside my family and immediate group of friends.
What surprised me was beaming joy I see from so many faces. It was magnetic and unforgettable. For the first time, I saw and fully realized the universality of the Catholic Church.
I also came to learn that the joy I saw was not superficial happiness. In the midst of great suffering, I encountered people who were very smart, faith-filled, and knowledgeable about the intersection of faith and our contemporary culture. I came with questions about the church, life, and suffering. A friend and fellow pilgrim, Ben Martin, introduced me to the First Principles and Foundations of St. Ignatius Loyola and the importance of attending Mass. I learned about the depth and the wealth of Catholic spirituality in its 2,000 years’ worth of history. I was reminded that I’m a child of God in my darkest moments of life, I’m a child of God in the present moment, and I will still be God’s beloved in the future.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said that, “the world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” This Easter, may we be reminded of our baptism and the moments when we discover (or rediscover) how we are God’s beloved. May the Gospel of Jesus inspire us to reach the highest aims… the kind of greatness that is only possible when we fully realized how He loved us first (1 Jn 4:19).