CCCB evangelization conference held in Ottawa

Some 200 participants from dioceses across Canada took part in the CCCB evangelization conference.

Elements of successful conference will soon be online

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

[OTTAWA (CCN)]—Elements of the highly-successful 2019 National Conference on Evangelization and Catechesis April 4-6 in Ottawa will soon be online says Bishop Hector Vila of Whitehorse.

About 200 people who work in catechesis and evangelization in dioceses across Canada attended the conference on the theme “He thirsts for you” that featured author and columnist Fr. Ron Rolheiser, theologian Josephine Lombardi, Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary, and Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) executive director among the speakers.

This was the first conference of its kind sponsored by an office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) since 2004, but Bishop Vila, who chairs the CCCB’s Episcopal Commission on Evangelization and Catechesis said he hopes there will be another one in the near future.

“I think this is only the beginning,” Bishop Villa said. “It’s not so much of an ambitious aim, because I think we just started. This sense of gathering—this idea started long before 2004. It was not concluded until now.”

Vila said he hopes to work with his brother bishops on the commission to put together another conference. “Perhaps this needs to be something every two years,” he said. “A year is too close, but maybe every two years to bring together all those who are involved in the work of spreading the Good News.”

Bishop Vila said the purpose of the conference was to “gather as a community of faith, to pray, to listen and to learn from one another, and to be send out to further the mission of evangelization.”

Twelve bishops were among the 200 people who attended the conference. Bishop Vila said the goal was to “nourished of the water that quenches all of our thirst, whatever circumstances or situation we are going through.”

“It’s the work of the Holy Spirit to be evangelized so we can become evangelizers,” he said. The conference also allowed attendees to share the resources each diocese has produced over recent years.

“I think it has been very fruitful for communion among ourselves,” Bishop Vila said. “This conference has given us a lot of hope, strength and the feeling we are not alone doing this work of evangelization.”

It showed there are “many people working and struggling” like everyone else, so this conference has “meant a lot towards spreading the Good News.”

Bishop Vila praised the way the conference speakers addressed the conference theme, starting with a one-woman play written and performed by Elisa Lollino, entitled He Thirsts for You about the woman at the well.

“She did a wonderful play bringing alive this encounter,” Bishop Vila said. Bishop Vila said he was touched personally by Lombardi’s presentation about “the encounter that transforms.”

“That meeting with Christ doesn’t take any short cuts,” Bishop Vila said. “He was not accusing her of her sins, but entering into her reality without any judgements and working within that reality for her to meet a loving God, a forgiving God, a God who cares for her. This meeting becomes a transformation.”

Lombardi described the whole passage of the woman at the well, “explaining how this encounter, meant not only for woman but all those who read it, is an indication God has not abandoned anyone nor is He adding any condemnation to anyone, but it’s an open invitation that continues to be there.”

“We can go to that well to nourish ourselves, each of us,” he said.

Fr. Rolheiser laid out a practical approach to the theme of encounter, “from the well to the world,” so that catechesis and evangelization reaches out to those who are no longer coming to church, Vila said.

Fr. Rolheiser said, “We are so enclosed in structures, we don’t help that much in reaching out,” Bishop Vila said. “We need for our approach to be like Jesus Christ, who sits with the woman, someone he was not supposed to talk to because she was a Samaritan woman.”

Rolheiser advised being present and being welcoming rather than legalistic, he added.

Bishop McGrattan focused on how “we need to be constantly nourished in an ongoing process of formation,” Bishop Vila said. The bishop also spoke on how we are “called to be witnesses,” and so we “need to have a life that reflects what we believe” and that’s more important than articulating that belief. Bishop McGrattan also touched on letters and exhortations of Pope Francis pointing out a similar message.