.- Taking its cue from the recent and massive Convocation of Catholic Leaders in the U.S., one Chicago-based organization is partnering with parishes to form missionary disciples.

The convocation took place in Florida July 1-4, drawing several thousand participants. Aimed at equipping and invigorating Catholic leaders, the event addressed challenges that inhibit parishes from evangelization, especially the deflating attendance of parishioners in Catholic churches.

In a July 20 interview with CNA, president of L’Alto Catholic Institute Tim Glemkowski said “the way this New Evangelization is going to be accomplished is by forming each lay Catholic as a missionary disciple, for normative Catholicism to be heroic Catholicism.”

Established this year, L’Alto works closely with the parishes of Chicago to form disciples according to each community, taking into account the goals and people of each parish rather than imposing a generic formula without understanding specific needs.

Glemkowski said the organization’s goal is to walk with parishes who long to develop this culture of discipleship but face obstacles or do not know where to begin. Developing disciples is a lifelong process, he said, adding L’Alto may give parishes a starting boost, and help chart a course during a church’s beginning stages.

Additionally to working closely with parishes, the organization has developed three other initiatives: a school of prayer, a bi-weekly discipleship group for high school women, and a three-day parish event filled with the sacraments and geared toward a personal encounter with Jesus.

When asked about his reference to a quote by Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI, stating that true conversion follows an encounter with Christ as a person and not just as an ethical solution, Glemkowski said the Christian faith must contain a personal encounter with Christ because “the reality is, though, that people will find it difficult to die for a detached notion.”

“Catholicism requires sacrifice, at times the ultimate sacrifice of the martyrs, but even just every day sacrifices that result from living according to a belief system that runs contrary to the world.”

At the convocation, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Barron, said that every era’s crisis is met by a movement of the church, a movement which Glemkowski believes will arise from a commitment to the “New Evangelization” by the clergy, religious, and especially the lay people.

“It is not the role of the clergy alone to form disciples. It is the task of the entire Church, lay included.”

Glemkoswki said that indifference and relativism are major problems within our culture today, noting a lack meaning in hearts of people which is substituted by inadequate things.

“The human heart cannot live without meaning. Where meaning is not found, all kinds of strange substitutes take its place, and what we are seeing in the world are the strange reactions to billions of human hearts desperately craving a reason to live.”

Even within the Church, there are a number of Catholics who do not know its teachings and are not interested. He referenced a 2008 study by Pew Research Center that showed that less than 50 percent of Catholics believe religion contains a personal relationship with God. Additionally, he said about six Catholics leave the Church per every convert who comes into the Church, according to another study by Pew Research Center in 2015.

The decrease in numbers and zeal paints a picture of a church that hasn’t been creating disciples to spread the message of the Gospel, Glemkoswki said. He also pointed towards the encounter of the faith as identified in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles – saying that this is not a reality for people at Catholic parishes today, leaving the guest or parishioner to wonder if it’s even the same faith.

“Community, shared life, joy, apostolic zeal; these things should be the normative experience for Catholics, and often, our communities just don’t measure up,” he said.

“I don’t think when most people walk into your average Sunday liturgy, they feel like they’re worshiping God with a multitude of saints.”

Glemkowski said this was a major concern for the convocation in Florida. In reference to Pope Francis’ 2013 encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, the conference strongly recognized the need for developing missionary disciples to spread the Gospel within the culture.  

“To be a disciple means to adopt the yoke of Christ meaning you have an active and growing prayer life, you participate frequently in the life of the Church, and you are attempting to conform your every moment to His teachings through ascesis and purgation.”

However, creating discipleship is more than an ethical problem – and Catholicism is more than “an intellectual system with a moral code attached to it.”

He said he understands why the Church at times mistakenly pushes a stringent morality as a response to a perceived ethical laxity on the part of Catholics.

But the faith can’t be sustained solely as an idea, or even as the sacrifice required in the Christian life and as seen in martyrs and saints, he said. Rather, it’s sustained through the love of the person of Christ.

Glemkowski quoted Saint John Paul II, saying: “It is necessary to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ. Only from a personal relationship with Jesus can an effective evangelization develop.”

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