BRIDGEPORT—Developing a spirit of perseverance and endurance alongside the desire to witness Christ in a wounded world are the qualities needed to welcome people back to the Church, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said in a Mass thanking those who have stepped forward to serve as lay “Ambassadors” in the diocesan renewal.
About 50 men and women and their families gathered at St. Augustine Cathedral on Tuesday night for the Mass of thanksgiving for their participation in the Ambassador Formation initiative.
There was a spirit of joy and excitement in the cathedral as many of the Ambassadors met together in person for the first time and reflected on their formation experience.
The men and women of all ages participating in the Ambassador formation initiative were recommended by their pastors and drawn from parishes in Bridgeport, Stratford, Trumbull, Shelton and Fairfield.
“It’s great to be with you take a look at what the Lord is doing in your own life as you move forward in this ministry,” the bishop said in his greeting before beginning the Mass. “Tonight we are gathered in the upper room, where He will feed and nourish us for the task ahead.”
The bishop announced the Ambassador initiative in his February 17 pastoral exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.” In his letter the bishop wrote, “I will need the assistance of co-workers who will not be afraid to go out into their communities to invite people to encounter the Lord and His mercy.”
More than 200 people from 25 different parishes meeting this spring have responded to his call and completed the first phase of Ambassador training that will help prepare them to go out into the world and welcome all back to the Church.
The bishop was joined in celebrating the Mass by Father Michael Novajosky, who is leading the Ambassador formation initiative for the diocese.
Father Novajoksy read the from the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (2: 5-20) that set the theme for the evening: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
In his homily, the bishop said as part of their work the diocesan Ambassadors will go out to large and small groups as well as individuals and seek to bring the truth and the love of Christ to all whom they encounter.
“Remember who is going out; Christ in you and me—not you, not me!” the bishop said. “When people you meet look into your eyes, they will be looking into the eyes of the Lord, and you will become ever more his Ambassadors. This is the seed of renewal we have been waiting for.”
The bishop said that Corinth of Paul’s time is not that much different from the world of the 21st century. The world needs the presence of Christ, and the faithful must always resist the temptation to become lax, to settle for less and to be distracted by fighting.
He told the Ambassadors that the task at hand “is not to judge others,” but to lead them toward the truth of Christ.
“Truth is freedom—not a burden. Behavior contrary to the gospel is a form of slavery, and mediocrity deadens the joy in every heart,” he said urging the Ambassadors to go all out for their faith and live it deeply.
After Mass the bishop led an informal listening session. Referring to those in formation as “pioneers,” he thanked the Ambassadors for being first class to go through program.
Standing in center aisle of the cathedral, the bishop welcomed their thoughts and comments of and offered some of his own reflections.
Many of the Ambassadors told the bishop that the formation program has been a life-changing experience and an opportunity to deepen their faith. They also thanked Father Novajosky for his leadership and for the quality of the online videos.
One Ambassador said she has come to feel very strongly that faith must be relational, and that God’s love must be shared with others in a communal way.
An Ambassador from St. James Parish in Stratford echoed that theme and spoke about the need for sharing the faith in a personal way.
“See a face, get a name, hear a story,” she said, “People need to be welcomed, accepted and loved.” She added that the parishioners in her group have provided a strong network of support for one another and that has helped prepare her to step forward as an Ambassador.
The bishop said that he thinks of invitational ministry as a series of concentric circles; the innermost circle is filled with those who are most active and committed to practicing their faith, while the outer rings are formed by those who are disaffected or disinterested, often because they are wounded in some way.
He said the challenge is “to draw them toward the center” through the strength of love and community formed by believers.
When ready, they will be sent out into their community under the care of their pastor to invite those who have left active participation in the life of the Church to return home.
The bishop asked the Ambassadors to keep the date October 16 free on their calendars for a diocesan event of celebration and commissioning when they will go out into the community. He said he looks forward to the day when every Catholic home in the diocese will be visited by Ambassadors who will affirm the faithful and welcome people back to the Church.
(For further information on the Ambassador initiative, visit: www.bridgeportdiocese.org/call-to-renewal)