You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth


Who could have imagined that my first public proclamation of the Word of God, the day of my First Holy Communion, would literally become true? Even with my growing enthusiasm for Christ and the Faith, I did not anticipate at such a young age that I would actually live out the words of Jesus in the First Reading I joyfully proclaimed that glorious Sunday. But that I did!

This past August, I was privileged to joyfully go “to the ends of the earth,” to Australia – though Fr. George Montague made a good point in an email he sent me: “Congratulations on your successful trip, not to the end of the earth, but to the bottom of the earth (from our perspective.) Unlike the sad fellow we see at night up here, the man in the moon in Australia is smiling! I guess he would be here too if we stood on our heads.” I’m smiling just thinking about the fact that I may have been standing on my head for two weeks while in Australia.

I travelled that far from home to witness to Jesus Christ. I was invited to speak alongside Archbishop Salvatore (Rino) Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization in The Vatican, at PROCLAIM 2012, the first national new evangelization event of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference as they observe a Year of Grace and prepare to enter the Year of Faith (www.proclaimconference.com.au/speakers.) The conference gathered over 15 bishops, dozens of priests, deacons, and religious, and over 400 lay leaders from across Australia and the neighboring New Zealand. It included three keynote addresses, a wide variety of workshops, daily Mass, adoration, Confessions, a youth concert, exhibits, and much more. I was honored to share the podium with Archbishop Fisichella and delighted to interview him for my weekly television show which airs on Catholic Television of San Antonio (CTSA-15) and can also be viewed online on YouTube and Vimeo. I enjoyed chatting with this great evangelizer who is overseeing the observance of the Year of Faith (www.annusfidei.va), as we petted a koala, fed wallaroos and wallabees, enjoyed miniature penguins, and talked to a parrot at Koala Park: “I want a cracker” it kept repeating at the prompting of the good Archbishop.

Archbishop Fisichella delivered two keynote addresses on the new evangelization and the Year of Faith and was interviewed by a leading local secular newspaper (www.news.va/en/news/abp-fisichella-we-need-new-evangelizers.) I gave a keynote address on personal conversion and holiness; a workshop on the new evangelization; served as a panelist; was interviewed by two Catholic media outlets; and recorded four TV interviews with Archbishop Fisichella, Archbishop Philip Wilson, Bishop Peter Comensoli, and Marita Winters, the national director for evangelization and co-author of Reconnect, a program of welcome for inactive Catholics. Conference participants were able to send their questions to keynote speakers and panelists via Twitter, and to enjoy highlights of the conference via Facebook in real time. The joys of modern technology well used! The talks were well received and participants appeared eager to learn about the new evangelization and personal growth.

In the first of his two talks, Archbishop Fisichella stressed that “we cannot conduct a new evangelization without new evangelizers”, and that countering the present crisis of faith is not solely about a “reform of structures” but involves a personal encounter with the Risen Christ: “To be an evangelizer is a vocation so that all people may be able to hear the Gospel of Jesus, believe in him and call upon him. That vocation is born on the very day of our baptism and it is a vocation to every believer in Christ to make of himself or herself a credible bearer of the good news encapsulated in his teaching. To be sent, then, is intrinsic to the baptismal vocation; this implies for all Christians that they assume this responsibility, each one in their own person, without any possibility of delegating it to others. The proclamation of the Gospel cannot be delegated to others; rather, it requires the awareness specific to the believer that he or she is to be a bearer of Christ wherever they go.”

In my keynote address, I explained why conversion and holiness are indispensable for personal maturity and for an effective new evangelization. Using a heartburn commercial and spiritual heartburn analogy I shared how, much like with certain foods that cause us to experience heartburn sooner or later, in the spiritual life too, sooner or later, our hearts must burn with love of God and neighbor; therefore, God will purify our hearts sooner or later. “Do you want heartburn now or later?” I asked the crowd. They seemed to want conversion now and joined me in singing the beautiful song “Refiner’s Fire” which declares that “My heart’s one desire is to be holy, set apart for You, Lord… ready to do Your will.” I spoke of the importance of giving the Eucharist a central place in our lives so that in receiving “the Bread come down from heaven,” Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we may become like Him whom we eat as the great masters of the spiritual life have said. If “you become what you eat” you become like Jesus, “holier today than yesterday and holier tomorrow than today!” One religious sister told me, with tears in her eyes, that all her life she has longed for one thing only: to be a saint in the image and likeness of God. My talk encouraged her all the more! Praised be the Lord who calls us all to go stronger, higher, faster on the path to holiness until we all become saints. In my workshop on the new evangelization I shared practical tips for personal and parish new evangelization outreach, including my newly updated 12 Tips for an Effective New Evangelization and 30 Ways iEvangelize.

I stayed in Australia for a few extra days after the conference to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of Sydney and Melbourne, including the Darling Harbor, Sydney Opera House, the Botanical Garden, Manly Beach, Bondi Beach, Balmoral Beach… Yes, I love beaches and I was able to walk barefoot on the sand and dip my feet into the cold water the day of my return, the warmest day of my stay as winter gave way to spring, though on colder days, more than once, I saw surfers or swimmers emerge from the cold waters. I went to Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral twice, visited by both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI; to the Aquarium; to two musicals; and I went whale-watching, though the sudden shift in winds and the very turbulent waters made for a very unpleasant experience – and the whales barely showed up. Next time! I prayed more than once at the tomb of the first Australian to be canonized. In fact, I arrived on her Feast Day and stayed at the very site where she is buried. St. Mary of the Cross (MacKillop) founded a religious community of sisters devoted to the care of the poor and marginalized. San Antonio was in my thoughts and prayers as I prayed at her tomb.

I was delightfully surprised to see that besides Aboriginal peoples and Aussies of European descent, Australia is home to peoples from dozens of countries from every continent. Australia seemed as ethnically-diverse as the Universal Church. What a blessing! I met residents from 28 nations and visitors from several more. Immigrants have been more or less welcome at different times, as laws and attitudes have shifted back and forth over the years. The Melbourne Immigration Museum depicts changes in their immigration laws over the years which reminded me of our own history, laws, and challenges, and that our country is not the only one wrestling with the issue of mobility and migration. I visited Melbourne’s famous Queen Victoria Market and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where I knelt and prayed for the deceased bishops of Melbourne at a kneeler and statue they have for that purpose – a very good idea, I thought. While there, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to give a word of encouragement to a young Italian woman sitting in a pew with a sad look on her face. Gloria was about to leave Australia, her visa almost expired, and could not understand why this was happening to her and wondered what she would do upon returning to Milan. She didn’t know how to speak to the Lord and felt she didn’t deserve a listening, as she seldom goes to Church. We talked for five minutes and she was uplifted and encouraged as I gave her some perspective for her return home and suggestions for her prayer. As she looked at me with amazement, I answered the unspoken question on her mind: “Who are you? How did you know?” “I am your sister in Christ and He has a plan for life; He has not forgotten you,” I said, as she smiled with gratitude. “Oh, don’t forget to see a priest when you arrive home,” I said with a smile as I departed. “Yes, I will do that”, she nodded with a smile. I hope she has visited the websites I suggested and that she is now attending a young adult group and a church in her home town as the Lord shows her the next best step.

One of the highlights of the site-seeing portion of my trip was my tour down the magnificent Great Ocean Road which hugs the Victoria coastline with miles and miles of spectacular views of the deep blue ocean enjoyed from sea level and hilltops. This long road was built by over 3,000 servicemen in honor of their fallen World War I comrades. We stopped at several of its most notorious spots, including The Twelve Apostles (rock formations created by the sea and the wind along the coast of Port Campbell National Park); Gibsons Steps; Cape Otway Lightstation; and Loch Ard Gorge (where a brave 18 year-old saved himself and an 18 year-old girl from a shipwreck that killed all others.) All I could think of as I gazed on the beauty of God’s creation was: “What an awesome God we serve! Heaven and earth proclaim Your glory, O Lord!”

Though travelling alone, I was never alone. New friends invited me into their homes for dinner. In Sydney, on the Eve of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was treated to a delicious home-cooked Australian dinner at Marita’s home where I enjoyed the charm of her lovely three year-old daughter, while her husband and his buddy surprised me with music and stories of the years they spent living in the Dominican Republic (in the Caribbean). Who would have thought: Aussies speaking Spanish with a Dominican accent, reminding me of people, places, and things I had all but forgotten – and I’m half Dominican! Lovely evening. On the Feast of the Assumption, the Fraternas (Marian Community of Reconciliation) had me over for dinner. I am friends with their “sisters” in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Bridgeport, Denver, Lima, and Santo Domingo. The new evangelization is part and parcel of their apostolate and charisms; two Fraternas served in the Office for Evangelization some time ago while another two worked for the Archbishop; currently they are serving at St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. John the Evangelist, and Antonian High School.

I made new friends in Melbourne too. I spent a lovely evening with Stephanie and her beautiful Australian-Italian family, and heard stories of early beginnings and tough times from 84 year-old Pascuale, a shoe-maker proud of his hard work and achievements. He and other family members engaged me in lively discussions about faith matters with the characteristic passion and honesty of Italians and Latinos. The food and deserts were good too! In each of these instances, I felt right at home with these ‘complete strangers’ – and it appears that they did too. I cherish these visits as much as anything else I did in Australia. I cherish the extended Catholic family we belong to worldwide.

I thank the Lord for this August trip – a gift in every sense: a fine late Texas summer-end of Australia winter vacation, an opportunity to witness to Christ even to the ends of the earth, an honor on the professional level, a rewarding experience, and a great anniversary gift. (On an August 29 at the age of 15, I committed my life to Christ as Lord after reading the entire New Testament, and began evangelizing through high school retreats, conferences, radios shows, home visits, and such, speaking in various cities and countries.) I pray that abundant and lasting fruit will come from the insights provided by Archbishop Fisichella, myself, and the couple of dozen seminar presenters to the conference participants and the many they will touch with their new evangelization efforts.

May the Lord be glorified in all we said and did, and may the Church in Australia and across the world receive abundant grace and grow as we all duc in altum –“put out into the deep for a catch” (Luke 5)– during the Year of Faith which is about to begin (10-11-12), a year of grace for all who wish to enter the door of faith which is open to all. Now is the time to embrace and submit to the truth that sets us free, for as the Vicar of Christ states, the Year of Faith is “a path intended to help us understand more profoundly not only the content of the faith, but also the act by which we choose to entrust ourselves fully to God, in complete freedom” and “freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God who reveals himself and allows us to know his mystery of love.” (Pope Benedict XVI: Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, No. 10) May the October 7-28 XIII General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith” be a time of grace for bishops from across the globe and the flocks they shepherd. For more information on the Year of Faith, the Synod of Bishops, and the New Evangelization, visit the Vatican’s Year of Faith website (www.annusfidei.va – click on EN in the upper right hand corner for English) and my blog  (http://iEvangelize.wordpress.com) where you will find links to our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, YouTube and Vimeo channels, and my weekly TV show, Prepare The Way on CTSA, Channel 15, Time Warner Cable (Mondays, 11:30 am; Wednesdays, 10:30 am; Fridays, 9:30 pm) where you can view the Australia interviews and several more conducted in San Antonio before and since my trip.

Find the texts and videos of Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella’s and my keynote addresses,
as well as coverage of the event and photos of the Koala Park outing online:
www.zenit.org/article-35435?l=english
www.news.va/en/results?q=abp+fisichella+proclaim+2012
www.bathurst.catholic.org.au/?i=617&stronger-higher-fasterpath-to-sainthood; http://s1116.photobucket.com/albums/k564/catholicmedia/Martha%20Fernandez%20Sardina/
http://mediablog.catholic.org.au/?p=891
http://mediablog.catholic.org.au/?p=1201
www.proclaimconference.com.au
www.evangeliseaustralia.com
www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbNandyXSl8

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