SALT LAKE CITY — A priest considered by many to be the most powerful and creative voice in American Catholic evangelism told a gathering including about 200 Utah Catholics this week that they need to focus their evangelical efforts on "announcing Christ to the nations."
"The church doesn't have a mission — the church is a mission," said Father Robert Barron, rector and president of Chicago's Mundelein Seminary and founder of a global Internet and media ministry known as Word on Fire. "Mission isn't one of the things the church does. Mission is what the church is."
And that mission is simple, Father Barron said.
"The essential life of the church is the building up of the beautiful community of Christ," he said. "The 'good news' of evangelization is Jesus Christ risen from the dead."
Father Barron was the final keynote speaker during the biennial Cathedral Ministry Conference, which was held this week in the City Creek Marriott Hotel. Hosted by Salt Lake City's Cathedral of the Madeleine, the conference attracted nearly 100 participants from all around North America.
"The conference is an opportunity for those of us who minister at cathedrals to exchange information and ideas," said Monsignor Joseph M. Mayo, pastor of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Cathedral ministry is a little different from the ministry at other churches and parishes because the cathedral is the bishop's church, and because of its size, history, furnishings and location, it is more likely to attract guests and visitors from outside the church, Monsignor Mayo explained.
"For example, we are known for our choir school," he continued, referring to the renowned Madeleine Choir School, the only one of its kind in the United States that includes both boys and girls. "We've had some beautiful masses the past few days to show these folks how we can integrate our choir with the liturgy. This conference has been a chance for us to show what we do that is unique."
During the four-day conference attendees participated in a variety of workshop sessions, including discussions of cathedral finances, websites and marketing. Because of the Salt Lake City location and the proximity to the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there was a special workshop called, "Everything you wanted to know about Mormonism ... but were afraid to ask!" There were also tours of the LDS Church's Temple Square and Welfare Square, as well as a tour of the Catholic Church's Weigand Center for the homeless.
But the best-attended session of the conference by far was Father Barron's keynote address, which was open to local Catholics, who filled the Marriott conference room to overflowing.
"My room here is on the 15th floor, and it has a spectacular view of the Mormon temple," he told the gathering of mostly Utahns. "This morning I prayed my rosary while standing at the window and looking out at that temple — I hope that's appropriate."
Father Barron focused on what is known by American Catholics as "the new evangelization," which he said is "the same as the old evangelization in many ways, but it's new in ardor, new in expression and new in method."
"The church I came of age in was not particularly a church of ardor," he said. "It was more a church of handwringing and questioning and wondering and doubting."
That was during the years just following the Vatican II council, he said, and Catholics were saying, "Here's what we traditionally teach, but now it's all being reconsidered."
"That's not a formula for ardor," Father Barron said.
"Occasionally the church has to pause and throw itself into counsel," he continued. "But then it turns back to its central task. We don't want (the Counsel of) Trent going on forever. We don't want (the Counsel of) Nicaea going on forever. We don't want Vatican II going on forever. That would put us in suspension. We need to go back to our original task."
And that task, he said, is the source of ardor in the new evangelization.
"The new fire comes from clarity about the resurrection of Jesus Christ," he said. "Evangelizing has to do with declaring Jesus risen from the dead."
The key for contemporary Catholics, Father Barron said, is finding the right ways and methods to express that message, especially in a day when so many people are "you know, like, 'whatever'" about the subject of religion.
"Jesus Christ risen from the dead rocks our world!" Father Barron said. "You can't say 'whatever' when I tell you that. You can say I'm crazy or 'I don't believe you.' But you can't say 'whatever.' It just doesn't work when you're talking about the single most important message of all time."