In front of 135 priests and leaders from 32 parishes, Father Bruce Nieli gave an impassioned and energetic all-day presentation on May 27 at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Sicklerville, guiding the attendees to help people “fall in love with God.”
Father Nieli, a Paulist priest and national Catholic evangelist and missionary, and formerly director of evangelization for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, focused his spirited talk on Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), a document in which the Holy Father set forth the Catholic Church’s mission of evangelization in today’s world.
The talk was divided into three parts, with Father Nieli providing insight into the importance of parish evangelization teams, how our preaching and teaching can lead to evangelization, and how Catholics can bring the good news to the poor.
“The guts of the new evangelization is ‘Kerygma,’ the proclamation of salvation, of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” Father Nieli said.
“Evangelization helps people fall in love with God. In how we speak of Jesus, we can draw people to a love relationship with him.”
He also stressed teamwork among parish leaders in creating ministers that “are united as one to implement evangelization strategies for their particular parish.”
“We need people enthusiastic about being Catholic and willing to bring people to Christ,” he said.
Father Nieli noted that parishes miss an opportunity by relying on answering machines to take incoming calls. “Don’t you think our people deserve a live voice?” he said, to applause. “There needs to be an evangelizer on the end of the line.”
Saying that today’s culture is “hungry” and “hurting” for something more, Father Nieli urged his listeners to bring “Catholicism into the public square, with conviction and passion. We are a church without frontiers.”
The priest interspersed his talk with musical interludes, playing a guitar and leading a clapping audience in the popular religious songs “This Little Light of Mine” and “Day By Day.”
Later that night he led a revival in St. Charles Borromeo Church, helping others renew their public encounter with Jesus.
“This day was a chance not just to learn tips on the new evangelization, but to be renewed in our spiritual lives, in our personal lives, and in the lives of our parishes,” said Andres Arango, director of evangelization for the Diocese of Camden.
Nina Camaioni, campus ministry assistant at the Catholic Campus Ministry at Rowan University, Glassboro, said the priest was “down to earth and relatable.”
“In order to evangelize others, we have to evangelize ourselves, in fostering our own relationship with Jesus, and figuring out how he wants us to reach out to others.”
Father Chris Mann, parochial vicar at Holy Child Parish in Runnemede, with the parish pastor, Father Joseph Ganiel, and seven other parish ministry leaders, attended the presentation, and plan to bring Father Nieli’s message back to his parishioners.
“Evangelization begins with the parish staff who perform not just an administrative task but an evangelical one; therefore, they need to be a formed evangelization team,” Father Mann said.
“A parish must be a place of hope, enthusiasm and great joy,” he said.