By Chris Lushis
NOTRE DAME — Students, faculty and staff of Holy Cross College welcomed Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to campus on April 16 in celebration of the Pope Francis Challenge, an initiative inspired by a call for authentic embodied evangelization.
When visiting last May for the school’s spring baccalaureate Mass, Bishop Rhoades invited the graduates to “embrace the challenge of Pope Francis to reach out and offer friendship to the marginalized.” Over the summer, theology professors and campus ministry leaders discussed how to make this Pope Francis Challenge a reality. Campus Ministry Director Andrew Polaniecki said, “Together we created a plan for students to commit to doing three substantial, distinct and concrete things that would demonstrate an intention to grow, give of oneself and live the Gospel.”
In early October, members of the college were formally invited to take this pledge and consider the areas of their life in which they could intentionally strive to encounter Christ in others. These reflections led to tangible results, seen through the commitment of those at Holy Cross to care for the elderly, visit the imprisoned, assist pregnant mothers, donate resources to the poor, build new friendships with those on campus and more.
Upon learning of this endeavor, Bishop Rhoades expressed gratitude and joy to the school community for taking his words to heart.
In his recent homily, he said, “When I spoke at last year’s Mass, I had no idea that my encouragement to accept the Holy Father’s challenge to go forth bringing the joy of the Gospel to others would be undertaken not only by the graduates, but by current faculty, staff and students as well. I am grateful that you have embraced that challenge by ministering to those on the edges or peripheries of society — the poor, the needy, the suffering, the weak, and the vulnerable.”
During his visit to Holy Cross, Bishop Rhoades was able to hear more from specific individuals on their view of the challenge and how it shaped their understanding of Christian discipleship.
Senior Joseph Rolf said, “In today’s culture, evangelization turns into something comfortable, done through a screen that can be turned on and off, Pope Francis tells us. So in order to really accomplish evangelization, it needs to be challenging, in the flesh and consistent. That is what the Pope Francis Challenge does. It challenges Christians to move beyond the comfortable and to embrace uncomfortable situations.”
Alyssa Davis, a freshman from West Virginia who entered the Church this past Easter Vigil, exclaimed, “I took the pledge intending to widen my circle of friends beyond my race and culture, since I graduated in an entirely white high school class. I have found success by pushing myself out of my comfort zone, finding friends who speak other languages, are from diverse backgrounds and even other countries. It has truly helped my experience here.”
Michelle Roy, a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo, Fort Wayne, spoke of the importance of embracing the cross. Having endured the difficulty of caring for both her mother and father through their battles with cancer, she emphasized, “I wanted to strive to be more courageous when encountering suffering, both in my own life or in the lives of others, to gain a more intimate understanding of how suffering affects us and how we can continue to move forward with hope.”
Roy, who is also the president of the school’s pro-life club, further stated that she desired to follow the example of Mary, the sister of Martha, in the Gospel, explaining, “While we will take part in various acts of service and engage in experiential learning, I also wanted to strive to be more of a Mary, in the sense of living a more reflective, contemplative, prayerful life centered on personal encounter.”
Bishop Rhoades echoed this sentiment in his homily, reminding that “as (Michelle Roy) said, it’s not all about activity; it’s not just about being Martha, but also about being Mary, because we cannot be missionaries unless we are first disciples. We have to sit at the feet of the Lord and listen to Him speaking to us in prayer.”
Additionally, members of the theology department shared their experiences and thoughts on the success of this endeavor.
Department chair, Dr. Louis Albarran, said, “I am constantly mindful of the Pope Francis Challenge because it helps me to live more intentionally as a theologian in the classroom and in the wider world. This has been especially relevant to my role within the Holy Cross tradition, which highlights the importance of practical action for evangelization, and has been most clearly evidenced for me by going to the margins as an educator at Westville Prison.”
Dr. Dianne Barlas revealed, “Admittedly, it has been a challenge at times to keep my pledge to extend myself to others, but each time I read something Pope Francis has said, I am reminded that he is a witness to Christ’s call to discipleship; he is embodied evangelization. And if the pope can find the time to be with the marginalized, so can I. It doesn’t happen often enough when our pope sends us to margins that we respond with a real action plan!”
Dr. Michael Griffin also exclaimed, “Pope Francis, through his example and teachings in letters like ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ is making the challenge and opportunity of Jesus’ call very clear. And Bishop Rhoades is bringing it very close. For me, the hope of this project, indeed the hope of all our work in Catholic education, is that our students see in that call also the joy of the Church. What a gift to be a part of the community journeying with the Lord Jesus to help all, from the margins to the center, experience the fullness of life!”
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