Reaching Others -- Conference speaker Andres Arango shares insights on effective evangelization tools. Rose O'Connor photo
Reaching Others -- Conference speaker Andres Arango shares insights on effective evangelization tools. Rose O'Connor photo

By Rose O’Connor and Armando Machado, Correspondents

Jon Leonetti has a way of speaking about evangelization in terms that many people can relate to.

“Without prayer, faith is just a hobby,” the best-selling author and nationally known speaker told some 200 parish ministers and diocesan leaders during a diocesan-sponsored evangelization conference June 24.

“The root of evangelization is invitation,” he said. “It’s not [about] pulling, it’s pushing.”

Photo Gallery: Evangelization Conference

Leonetti was one of two keynote speakers who addressed the conference held in St. David the King Parish, Princeton Junction, that had at its theme, “Together in Mission.”

During the daylong conference, which was sponsored by the Department of Evangelization and Family Life, Leonetti set out to give practical and insightful suggestions on how those who serve in parish ministry can effectively evangelize the faith communities they serve. Leonetti, who gave his presentation in English, was joined by Andres Arango, the Bishop’s Delegate for Hispanic Ministry, director of evangelization for the Diocese of Camden and chairman of the National Hispanic Catholic Charismatic Renewal Executive Committee, who spoke in Spanish.

Together, they focused on how “the root of evangelization is invitation.”

‘Fear Not’

With humor and candor, Leonetti noted that evangelization can present its share of challenges in today’s world, but then urged the gathering to “not be afraid” as they go about their work in bringing the love of Christ to others.

In the Bible, “we hear ‘do not be afraid’” 366 times, he said, then joked that the 366 citations are for “each day of the week and one more in case you forget.”

Leonetti, who authored “Mission of the Family,” offered advice for the audience to keep in mind as they assist laity in their parishes, including maintaining an active prayer life. He suggested the Rosary, which is a prayer that “encompasses everything of who we are.”

“God reaches back to us with every ‘Hail Mary’ and says, ‘I love you,’” he said.

Leonetti also encouraged frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist, and to pray to the Blessed Mother for her intercession.

“Mary is the closest way to God.  Mary’s his soft spot and his greatest defender,” he said.

Evangelize with Joy

Following the morning talk, Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general, moderator of the curia and pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, celebrated Mass for the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

In his homily, he referred to the late Cardinal Basil Hume, who pointed out that even among Catholics, there are far too many people who are sacramentalized but not evangelized.

Msgr. Gervasio continued, “St. John Paul II challenged us to re-evangelize with a new ardor or passion with a new expression and with new methods. 

“I should like to think that we’re gathered here today for this conference because we want to take up seriously this great challenge. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty,” he said.

Like Leonetti, Msgr. Gervasio encouraged the faithful to “be not afraid” saying, “We have to have the courage to be different and countercultural” in an apathetic world.

“When the Church blends into the world, it doesn’t help the world,” Msgr. Gervasio said. “Our faith is personal, but never private. It must be proclaimed, and however overwhelming that task may be, Pope Francis reminds us we must proclaim the Gospel with a heart that is not afraid.”

Msgr. Gervasio also encouraged the faithful to use as an example John the Baptist’s life as they continue to evangelize.

“John the Baptist also pointed to Christ when he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God,’” Msgr. Gervasio said. “We almost must point others to Christ and then get out of the way.”

Practical Tips

Terry Ginther, diocesan executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission, and Josue Arriola, director of the Department of Evangelization and Family Life, presented in English and Spanish on “Together in Mission,” which has been created to help pastors, parish clergy and staff, parish ministry leaders and families become more intentional about evangelizing at every phase of life. “Together in Mission” offers a framework for understanding how the ministries of parish life are related to one another and how they can support the lives of Catholic families growing in faith.

Referring to words from Pope Francis, Arriola spoke on how the Church’s pastoral action must accompany the family step by step in different stages of faith formation and development. He talked about ministries and programs geared toward young couples, children, teens, young adults (single and married) and older parishioners and on the significance of ministry workers maintaining a proactive and creative approach in tending to the spiritual needs of parish members.

Arriola emphasized the importance of ministry workers getting  to know their parishioners who are in need of special faith-based guidance. In particular, he noted that within the Hispanic community, there are many immigrants who desire social connections that keep them close to their native homelands. As a result, ministry staff and volunteers should try to provide those connections as a way to better gain the trust of the parishioners. 

“Families are the basis for the work, for the evangelization,” he said. “We are together in mission, to evangelize, to bring the Good News of Jesus to them, in all seasons of life, in all situations ... Be a disciple; be a student of the teacher.”

Both Arriola and Ginther offered suggestions on how to evangelize to various age groups, and attendees were encouraged to reflect on their own parish experiences and what it offers families in regards to evangelization.

“Evangelization is not the work of 10 people on a committee,” Ginther said. “It is the very purpose of all ministries.”

“We realize we are in this together,” she said. “We can’t do this alone.”

From the Field

Bob Konzelmann and Peter Bernot, both ministry leaders in St. Veronica Parish, Howell, said they hope to use the information they learned to better serve their fellow parishioners.

“It was a wonderful day.  I am interested in evangelizing to those who are not coming to Mass and I am looking for ideas to engage them where they are,” Konzelmann said.

Peter Bernot added, “We were fed well this morning by Leonetti and now we received some tools to meet the people where they are.  Now we need to see how effectively we are doing this and learn from each other so we can grow.”

Blanca Tobon, who serves on the religious education team in St. Anthony Claret Parish, Lakewood, remarked on how important it is “to reach our families and get them interested in Christ and make disciples.”

“It’s really all about personal relationships,” Ronnie Martlella from St. David the King Parish said.

Aroldo Rodas, an active volunteer in St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, also said he found the messages useful.

“They teach us how to be more prepared so that we can evangelize better to our brothers and sisters within the Church and within their families. They teach us how to better welcome new church members, with guidance from the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Earl Alger, director of adult faith formation and evangelization in St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, said the conference helped to “spark new energies.

“We really need to increase the fire in the parish and bring it alive,” he said.

For more information on “Together in Mission” visit: