By Karen Clifford
NOTRE DAME — “Go and make disciples of all nations,” proclaimed Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades as he echoed the words of Jesus Christ’s great commission to His Apostles.
The theme of evangelization was heralded by the bishop at the All School Mass at the University of Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center on Feb. 27. Students, teachers and administrators of 21 South Bend area and Western Michigan schools, along with 20 parish priests participated in the 20th year of this annual Mass.
Bishop Rhoades explained that the Apostles first went out in the streets of Jerusalem to teach and baptize people in the name of Jesus. Persecution of the Apostles followed and they set out for other destinations including the city of Antioch. It was here that the name “Christian” was first used to describe a follower of Jesus.
While early Christians preached only to the Jewish community, they remembered Jesus’ call for discipleship to all nations, and began to include the gentiles in their proclamation of Christ’s teachings, the bishop added. The expansion of their evangelization led the Apostles Peter and Paul to the pagan city of Rome where both were martyred and buried.
Peter was martyred and buried on a hill in Rome called the “Vatican.” Eventually St. Peter’s Basilica was built over Peter’s remains and is part of the Holy See, also referred to as the Vatican, where the pope resides.
Bishop Rhoades told the audience that he had recently returned from a 10-day visit in Rome with other bishops from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
He explained that all bishops are obligated to go to Rome every five years to pray at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul. In addition, the bishops are required to meet with the Holy Father during their visit.
On Feb. 9, Bishop Rhoades met with Pope Benedict XVI and they both discussed the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and the young people of the diocese. Bishop Rhoades noted that the pope was very interested in the diocese’s Catholic schools in particular.
“Our Catholic schools are one of the strengths of the Church in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend,” Bishop Rhoades told the pontiff. The pope, pleased by what the bishop had told him, responded, “Please give my blessing to the children of the Catholic schools.”
Pope Benedict spoke to all of the bishops during their “ad limina” visit about a new evangelization that is needed in the Church. The pontiff explained that many Catholics do not go to Sunday Mass anymore and need to be more active in their faith. The pope indicated that Catholic schools are a way of showing this new evangelism.
“The whole Church is universal and we have brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. The pope said the youth of America have a special responsibility (in evangelization) because they have been blessed in many ways,” Bishop Rhoades emphasized.
The bishop explained that Catholic School students could serve as missionaries to other countries by becoming a part of The Holy Childhood Association, which helps the world’s poorest children.
“I have a dream that every Catholic school in our diocese has a strong and active Holy Childhood Association,” said Bishop Rhoades. He noted that by joining the Holy Childhood Association, students can minister and evangelize to those in needy countries through prayer and financial support. The bishop suggested that financial support could be achieved by sacrifice, such as foregoing a special treat at lunch and donating the cost of the treat towards a classroom fund for the Holy Childhood Association.
The view of a universal Christian body resonated for many of those in attendance at the All School Mass. Two parish priests expressed that the All School Mass was a great way for students to understand this concept.
Father David Ruppert, pastor of St. Anthony de Padua Parish in South Bend, remarked, “It’s important for the children to know that they are more than their classroom, school or parish.”
Father Terry Coonan, parochial vicar of St. Pius X Parish in Granger, added, “As the body of Christ we are each slightly unique but are all connected in organic ways.”
Jennifer Sosinski, a fourth-grade teacher from Holy Cross School in South Bend, observed that students often see each other in sporting events or groups such as quiz bowls during the school year. “Here (at the All School Mass) they are able to see the bigger community of all the children coming together and praying to Jesus together,” Sosinski said.
Students Annalise Hernandez of St. Matthew Cathedral School, and Wyatt Toothacker of St. Pius X School, remarked that the joyous music and prayer increased the All School Mass appeal.
Near the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Rhoades thanked Quality Dining, the sponsor of the All School Mass, and the clergy, administrators, teachers and students for their efforts in making the annual event a success.
Before dismissing the students the bishop shouted to the enthusiastic crowd, “I’m proud of you, bear witness to the faith, and evangelize!”
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