The greatest Catholic advocates of all time have something in common.
They discovered their mission, made it personal and pursued it with uninhibited passion.
“You need to find the issue that animates you, that is part of your faith, that will affect our culture and help point things in the right direction,” said nationally-recognized Catholic activist and motivator David Bereit.
The founder and longtime CEO of the global 40 Days for Life Campaign spoke to Catholics from all over the state at the Missouri Catholic Conference’s 2019 Annual Assembly in the State Capitol.
About 350 Catholic clergy and laypeople joined the state’s Roman Catholic bishops at the event.
The theme was: “Raising the Next Generation of Catholic Advocates.”
“Now more than ever, the world, the Church needs you!” Mr. Bereit thundered from the ornate, nearly century-old elevated dais in the House Chamber.
“Find your passion”
Mr. Bereit hammered home stories of young Catholics who by faith and fortitude are helping to turn the tide of decay in American civilization.
“The one story that I haven’t shared and it could be THE most transformational story in this chamber: and that’s YOUR story,” he said.
“There are some ministries that only YOU can start!” he said. “There are some people that only YOU can reach. There are some organizations that only YOU can take to the next level. There are some politicians that only YOU can influence. There are some messages that only YOU can effectively articulate.”
He spoke of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s 1982 visit to a Catholic high school in the Arlington, Virginia, diocese.
A student asked her, “How can we become like you?’
Having discovered her own passion and mission in serving the poorest of the poor in the slums of an immense city in India, she responded, “Find YOUR Calcutta.”
“That same message is appropriate for all of us,” said Mr. Bereit. “We need to find the mission that God is calling us to. Whatever the great burdens that we see in society, whatever passions we have, the experiences, the gifts, the skills that God is giving you, where they can make the greatest impact in the world — WE need to find OUR Calcutta!
“And when you find your Calcutta, you need to advocate and lead on that front,” he said. “Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for all the circumstances to be perfect. Start now!”
Peace and war
A speaker from each diocese spoke from experience about advocating on God’s behalf for the people who are least able to stand up for themselves.
The afternoon brought a slate of break-out sessions on timely topics including immigration, gender ideology, racism, and Pope Francis’s exhortation on youth, “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”).
Catholic young people scouted the hallways and public spaces of the massive Capitol, searching for clues in a scavenger hunt.
Teens in the Senate Chamber took part in a mock legislature, putting their persuasion skills and understanding of civics into practice.
Before lunch, the people gathered in the Third Floor Rotunda area to watch a prerecorded interview with Bill McAnany, a Cathedral of St. Joseph parishioner and U.S. Army medic who helped treat people injured by the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Bishop McKnight presented a special award to Mr. McAnany for his bravery and Christian witness.
A path to sainthood
“You were made for this very moment!” Mr. Bereit insisted. “You were made to lead! You were made to advocate for our faith and the values we hold dear.”
He told everyone present that when they “find their Calcutta” and join with God in the work He is doing, “we will have the Holy Spirit working through us and with us and we will see Him renewing the very face of the earth.”
“And when you do that, you will become a saint in the process!” he added.
It’s about handing on to the next generation a civilization that is not in decline but “a better civilization and a better culture than the one we were handed,” he said.
“How God deals with us”
The state’s Catholic bishops concelebrated the closing Mass for the Assembly.
Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau preached a passionate homily, emphasizing the difficult but necessary Christian mandate to forgive.
“Our Lord calls us to love and forgiveness,” said Bishop Rice. “Forgiveness is endless, it is without measure, it can never be exhausted. That is how God deals with us and so we are to do the same toward others.”
Forgiveness, he insisted, is a divine activity, a work of God.
The bishop referred to Pope Francis’s observation that “when we let go of anger, wrath, violence and revenge — we can live joyfully.”
Bishop Rice pointed to the Church’s challenging teaching against capital punishment.
“Respect for life and the dignity of the human person are nonnegotiable, regardless of the circumstances,” he said.
He said it’s easy for people to say they’re pro-life until they come face-to-face with an unplanned pregnancy or someone who’s been sentenced to death.
“Then it becomes real,” he said. “It is nonnegotiable. So is the call to love, and to serve, and to reach out to the neighbor in need. These are all non-negotiables.
“So we do care about the vulnerable amongst us,” he said. “We do care about racism and the immigrant. We do care about the death row inmate and the unborn and the uneducated and those who have no healthcare. We do care about mercy and justice.”