Unity In Diversity Celebration Kicks Off Year Of Faith In Diocese
On Thursday, Oct. 11, Catholics from the Diocese of Evansville gathered for Mass at St. Benedict Cathedral with Bishop Charles C. Thompson to kick off the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.
“What we do here tonight is at the core of our Catholic identity,” Bishop Thompson said at the beginning of his homily. “It is the spirit that prompts and permeates our good works.”
Bishop Thompson noted that the Year of Faith coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, exhorts each and every baptized Catholic, young and old, clergy and laity, to commit ourselves to an ever deepening embrace of study, reflection and prayer,” Bishop Thompson told those gathered. He further noted that faithful Catholics should look to the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism to serve as a reflection of authentic discipleship in Jesus Christ.
“The Church exists for the mission of evangelization,” the Bishop said, adding that Catholics must use their time during this year to evangelize not only to other Catholics, but also to Protestants and members of non-Christian religions.
The roots of the Year of Faith reach back to the papacy of Paul VI. Pope John Paul II continued Pope Paul’s call for a new evangelization, and Pope Benedict announced the Year of Faith in an apostolic letter on Oct. 11, 2011 titled Porta Fidei.
Many parishes in the diocese plan to hold events to promote the Year of Faith, including discussion of the Catholicism book and video series by Father Robert Barron, talks on Vatican II and a Rosary novena to pray for religious liberty (which began Oct. 14 and lasts through Oct. 22. See Bishop Thompson’s column this weekfor more details).
For Father Alex Zenthoefer, pastor at Christ the King Church in Evansville, chaplain of Reitz Memorial High School and diocesan vocations director, elements of the Year of Faith can be traced back to the original 12 apostles, who, with the exception of St. John, died as martyrs for their faith at the hands of the enemies of the early Church. In spite of their persecution and martyrdom, these 12 persevered and established an organization that grew to encompass more than one billion Catholics worldwide.
“It was all possible because people had faith in the person of Jesus and followed the movement of the Holy Spirit. Their encounter with Christ propelled them to share what they had received with others,” Father Zenthoefer said. “The current Year of Faith is an occasion for all of us to be renewed in our relationship with the living God so that we might be inspired to put to use what we have been given.”
Kate Bittner, a high school student and parishioner at Holy Cross in Fort Branch, said she hopes young people use the Year of Faith as an opportunity to study documents such as the Catechism so they gain a better understanding of Catholic be-liefs. “It seems like people now-adays . . . they’re not really too strong in their faith . . . they don’t really know their faith. They don’t know how to defend it,” Bittner said. “That’s basically why Pope Benedict wanted this year, I think, to make us learn more and to actually study our faith and to know it.”
In addition to celebrating the Year of Faith, the Mass also honored the diversity and multiculturalism that the diocese embraces. The Mass featured the “Gloria” sung in Spanish, and during the Offering, gifts were brought forward from people representing Latin America, Europe and Asia, with some of the gift bearers wearing traditional garb from their native countries. One of the hymns sung during Commun-ion was a spiritual performed by the choir from St. John the Apostle, Evansville. After Mass, many of the faithful gathered in Woodward Hall on the St. Benedict campus to sample foods from various regions.
According to Bishop Thompson, the idea for a diocesan Mass for unity began several years ago. The purpose of the Mass is to bring together Catholics from many different ethnic backgrounds for worship.
“Unity and diversity aren’t necessarily at odds with each other,” Bishop Thompson said. “Our diversity, our differences, don’t have to necessarily be something that alienates us from one another . . . what we’re celebrating tonight is that our diversity adds to our unity and our unity is what makes that diversity all the more credible for us as one people of God and one body in Christ.”
For David Payne Jr., a parishioner at St. John the Apostle, Evansville, unity and diversity involve Catholics looking be-yond race and nationality to come together for worship and fellowship. “That was one of Christ’s last commandments: Love one another as I have loved you,” Payne said, noting that reaching out and trying to meet new people is essential to increasing fellowship in the Church. “When we go to Mass, we go to Mass to celebrate the Eucharist as one.”