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“The need for Missionary Disciples,” a message from Bishop Sullivan

“Missionary Disciples” were the two most frequently repeated words heard during the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, “The Joy of the Gospel in America,” which I attended along with 3,500 Catholics from across the United States — including 24 women and men who represented our diocese. We went to the Convocation to learn how to put into effect the vision of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.

The combining of the two words, Missionary Disciples, originated with Pope Francis and his call to the church to “embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by the joy of the Gospel.” Missionary Disciples are needed to accomplish this.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ followers are called disciples. They were the men and women who were attracted by the teachings of Jesus Christ. They associated with Him during His public ministry. He was their Rabbi (Teacher). They were His followers (disciples).

Mission was the final command of Jesus to His disciples who had gathered with Him when He ascended to the glory of His Father. He ordered them to “GO” to the whole world and bring others to Him, their Lord and Savior.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan and a fellow bishop process into Mass during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” held July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Mike Walsh

It will require study, teaching and instruction in order to understand the implication for each Catholic, and for our local church in South Jersey, of what a Missionary Disciple is and how that influences what one does.

In The Joy of The Gospel, the Pope dreams of a “missionary option” for all the pastoral activities of the church and for missionary conversion. Many of our diocesan and parish programs as well as our institutions and sponsored ministries will require re-tooling to reflect this “missionary option.”

Each disciple, that is, each one of the baptized, is missioned by the Lord to go to all with the Good News. This sending follows an “encounter” with the Lord. An “encounter” is knowing Him as never before. Experiencing His mercy and love as never before. Realizing that He is alive in your life. This “encounter” experience makes you to want to share Him with others whom you meet along the roads of life and whom should be accompanied to Jesus.

The Church can no longer do business as usual. We need to do our pastoring, which is our work, in a new way and that way is as Missionary Disciples. This is not a new parish or pastoral program; rather, it is a way of living as baptized members of the Catholic Church.

The recent popes, beginning with Paul VI, followed by Saint John Paul II, then Benedict XVI and now Francis, have called for a New Evangelization because there are new challenges for the church that require new methods of presenting the faith.

The Gospel message of salvation, which the Church safeguards and teaches, is unchanged. How-ever, our world today is so very different than in the past. That difference calls for different approaches to being Catholic and to being the Catholic Church. A Missionary Disciple understands that he or she must represent the Gospel by word and deed wherever and whenever. In the work place, in the community and in the family.

A Missionary Disciple is desirous to share faith and to encourage faith in everyone. Even those who may not be receptive to its power and those who may have rejected religion, no longer practicing their Catholic faith, are included in this New Evangelization. No one is dismissed or left out.

We have work to do as we seek to understand and implement the vision of The Joy of the Gospel in our diocese and what it means for our Church. Those of us who represented the Camden Diocese at the Convocation were very excited by what we learned and experienced over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in Orlando.

Each Catholic is called to be a Missionary Disciple. Consider the potential effect this could have in South Jersey for our Church, when our half million Catholics not only see themselves in this new way but GO forth fully with Jesus!

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D., Bishop of Camden