Evangelization and Mission offices combine

By Catholic New World
Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Office for Mission Education and Animation has a new tagline: “Fostering the New Evangelization.” That’s because it now has responsibility for the duties of what were once known as the Missions Office and the Evangelization Office. The new, combined office will remain under the direction of Sister Madge Karecki, a Sister of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis. She discussed the change with staff writer Michelle Martin.

Catholic New World: Why did we merge the two offices?

Sister Madge Karecki: In conversations with both Msgr. (Richard) Hynes (director of the Department of Formation and Parish Life) and the cardinal, we felt that it was a good thing because it really represents what mission is about today.

What we’re trying to do is look at or change the perception that mission just has to do with foreign mission. In the church documents, “mission” and “evangelization” are used interchangeably and we felt this would give a stronger theological foundation to efforts at evangelization in the archdiocese. Evangelization is one way to be on mission.

CNW: Practically, what will change?

Karecki: Practically, what will change will be that we’ll work together. We haven’t looked at all the staffing issues yet, but that’s happening. I have met with all the staff of the mission office individually and I have met with the staff of the evangelization office.

We’re hoping that this will result in better ways to serve in parishes and to do mission education, which ultimately is what we want to do. That is simply because one of the responsibilities that the director has, according to the Pontifical Mission Society, is to provide mission education in the diocese. So we’ll have more personnel to do that, and that will be a good thing.

CNW: How do you keep one function from overshadowing the other?

Karecki: Well, that’s going to be the trick of the merger. We’re really balancing the two, because both are necessary for us as Catholics, because of the universality of our church.

The big challenge is we want people to see their faith is not something that we keep to ourselves. It’s meant to be public. I think one of the issues to confront is the American myth that religion is something private. We’ve got to address that.

We’re going to do that by first offering a formation process that’s called “Becoming a Missionary Disciple.” It’s going to have six sessions, and we hope to get at least two people from each parish so that they can then in turn go and work in their parishes to build up more mission awareness, especially at home, but always with that larger context in mind.

CNW: Would you say that the United States is mission territory?

Karecki: Absolutely. That’s really not something that just I am thinking about. Since Vatican II, we have another perspective. We used to always think about mission in terms of other countries and territories. In fact, the Holy See used to give sections of countries to specific religious communities as mission territories for them to evangelize.

Now we don’t have that going on; we’re looking at planting the local church so that as the Catholic population grows, they become missionaries themselves.

We are in a situation where all of us are on mission simply because of our baptism and sharing in the life of the Trinity, which is a mission-sending community. The Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Spirit; the Spirit sends us.

On a very practical level, we are in a mission situation because so many people are unaware of the faith. That’s why the pope is calling for this new evangelization.

How do we present the Christian message in a way that speaks to people of our times?

CNW: Is it easier to present the Christian message to people who are unaware of it, or to people who are aware of the message but have misconceptions? Or is everyone aware of the message, and we all have misconceptions?

Karecki: There are still people who don’t know Christ, who haven’t heard the message, in remote areas of Africa, Asia, you’ve got situations like that. The question is it harder — it depends really on the context, what’s happening in situations where traditional religion is tied with culture, you have a hard time. I know this from my experience in Africa. But also, where people have first heard the message and now you’re trying to clear up the misconceptions, that can be equally challenging unless people are open. There the question is ongoing conversion.

CNW: What do you want to emphasize in terms of making us a more missionary people?

Karecki: The emphasis has to be about really learning anew that we are indeed missionary. It’s the misconception that the missionary is someone who goes to another land, another culture, another people, has to be corrected.

We have to implement what the Second Vatican Council was trying to get across, that we are always on mission. Every one of us is to be a missionary. We’re meant to share our faith.

I think it’s especially hard here in the United States because of this division between religion and the rest of our lives. There’s a certain fragmentation that has to be looked at. In the archdiocese, we have so many resources, we have everything we really need to strengthen this sense of mission, and hopefully, if people respond, this can happen with some education.