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Symposium: Catholics must respond to pope’s challenge to ‘go to extremes’

Passionist Father Robin Ryan speaks as Bishop Dale J. Melczek listens at the Diocesan Leadership Symposium at Our Lady of Consolation on Oct. 4. Father Ryan and Bishop Melczek spoke to a gathering of nearly 200 about themes of Pope Francis' papacy, including God's mercy and service to others. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)



By Steve Euvino
Northwest Indiana Catholic

MERRILLVILLE – "We have a lot to learn from Pope Francis," Passionist Father Robin Ryan said, concluding his address to the Diocesan Leadership Symposium at Our Lady of Consolation on Oct. 4.

An author and associate professor of systematic theology at Chicago's Catholic Theological , Father Ryan outlined five themes essential to Pope Francis' teachings. Bishop Dale J. Melczek followed the priest's comments with his own observations, after which some of the nearly 200 participants shared their thoughts.

The theme for the Saturday morning program was "Pope Francis calls us to mission and evangelization. Who will answer?"

Father Ryan offered these five themes of the current papacy: the primacy of mercy; the Church as home and instrument of comm; the call to solidarity; Church leadership as dedicated service to the people of God; and the indispensability of prayer.

For some, Father Ryan began, Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air; for others, the pope poses a threat or challenge.

Addressing the "folks in the trenches," Father Ryan encouraged the assembled catechists, school administrators and teachers, parish council members, youth and young adults, and clergy not to sentimentalize this pope. "We need to take his challenges seriously," Father Ryan said.

For Pope Francis, Father Ryan said, the primary word the Church must speak in evangelization is the mercy of God poured out in Jesus Christ. For this pope, the priest continued, the world needs reconciliation and comm, and the Church is the home of comm. Also, Father Ryan said, the Church cannot limit itself to its parish walls.

Regarding the call to solidarity, Father Ryan said, Pope Francis has criticized the current globalized economic system at the risk of being labeled a socialist. As to Church leadership, this pope sees the pastor as mediator rather than manager or intermediary; the mediator facilitates an encounter.

Father Ryan said Pope Francis, speaking on prayer, sees Christian life as a "response to the tenacious love of God poured out in Jesus Christ. ... Life with God requires disciples, but also a response to God's self-communication."

In response, Bishop Melczek took a pastoral approach to Pope Francis.

"The pope is challenging us to go out to the extremes, to look at parishes differently," Bishop Melczek said.

The bishop then challenged the audience: Are we just ministering to the people who come to church regularly? Do we go out to those we don't see in church? What are we doing intentionally in our parishes to create a sense of community? What place do we have in our hearts for the poor? As to parish leadership, who is serving whom? Do parish council members understand their role is about service, not power?

"I admire Pope Francis' freedom. He sees himself totally free to share God's love as he is led by the Spirit to do so," Bishop Melczek said. "Our with Christ propels us to share his love with others."

The bishop added, "Jesus calls us to mission and evangelization through baptism. We are baptized for mission. You and I – all the people – are here to go out and bring the Gospel of Joy."

Audience members cited everyone's responsibility to share in leadership and create an atmosphere of love while developing a sense of ownership in which all parishioners take part.
Vicky Hathaway, a young adult from St. Edward, Lowell, spoke of "walking with the people we serve," helping them meet their needs.

Valerie Goode, from Ss. Monica and Luke, Gary, noted how parishes are losing their young people after high school and college. She encouraged parents to "take [their children], don't drop them" at church.

Jose Bustos, from Our Lady of Guadalupe, East Chicago, said the symposium "fills me with joy" to see the enthusiasm expressed that day.

Karen McMahon, a pastoral associate at Holy Spirit, Winfield, shared this definition of mercy: the willingness to enter the chaos of another. "If we are willing to enter the chaos we see around us, we will indeed show the mercy of God," she said.

"We all have a mission on earth," said Bertie Hernandez, from St. John Bosco, Hammond. "We have to ask ourselves, what is our mission?"

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