"This is not something new that we haven't heard before," he told the delegates in Orlando in a July 2 keynote address.
The cardinal stressed the sense of urgency of evangelizing and inviting others to Christ, stressing that Catholics have a perfect role model for this in Pope Francis, who has continually presented the church as inviting and open.
Cardinal Wuerl also acknowledged that Catholics are not always comfortable with the idea of evangelizing but they need to be willing to step out of themselves and talk with people about their faith as part of an encounter often spoken of by Pope Francis.
An encounter is not meant to tell people "they can be as wonderful as we are," the cardinal said. It is about telling them about Christ. He also noted that as people take this Gospel message out to the peripheries that doesn't just mean economic peripheries either but spiritual ones as well.
People need to be asked about their faith and encouraged in it, he added.
He spoke about an experience he had on a plane where a woman sitting beside him asked him if he was "born again." When he said he was at his baptism, his seatmate said: "You Catholics are big into this church thing, aren't you?"
She then asked him to tell her more and joking, he told the crowd: "You asked for it!"
His point was that many people have questions or even misconceptions about faith and need to be part of a conversation about it.
Stressing that church members today, as always, are called to be evangelizing disciples, the cardinal said this role requires courage, a sense of urgency, compassion and joy.
Deacon Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington and one of the convocation attendees, said it was “inspiring to be part of such an incredible and joy-filled gathering as the Church in America looks to move forward.”
The concept of a joy-filled missionary discipleship “must undergird all of our efforts in the Church—from our institution to our outreach to the margins of our society,” he said. “There are so many who are hurting, wounded and marginalized. The Lord can heal those hurts. And we have the privilege and responsibility to be the Lord’s instruments of mercy and love in the world. What a privilege and responsibility!”
Members of a panel of Church leaders who spoke at the convocation, similarly stressed the need to evangelize in simple ways of sitting and eating together, sharing conversion stories, and also reaching out to parishioners and urging them to be more involved.
The cardinal and many of the panelists also emphasized that reaching out to others requires a reconnection of one's personal faith.
Or as Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said: "If you want to go out in world, start by going in."
Deacon Lawson said the convocation energized him for his ministry in Vermont: “The Lord continues to send us out into the world, but He never sends us out alone—always two by two right? To be with some 3,600 other Catholic leaders all seeking the same goal was inspiring and enlivening.”
Also in attendance was Bill Gavin, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Burlington.
-- Vermont Catholic Content Editor and Staff Reporter Cori Fugere Urban contributed to this story.
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