Conference focuses on ‘Living the Good News’

By Peggy Moraczewski

Traditionally, September Saturdays revolve around college football. However, instead of football, a crowd of more than 250 gathered on Sept. 27 to learn how they can live Pope Francis’ message in “The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium.”
The Justice and Charity Secretariat for the Diocese of Austin, under the leadership of Barbara Budde, hosted the Living the Good News Conference at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School in Austin. Paulist Father Bruce Nieli graciously filled in as keynote speaker when the scheduled presenter canceled with a medical emergency. Father Nieli, who is currently in residence at St. Austin Parish in Austin, challenged attendees to “be the catalyst for others to come back to Jesus.”
He suggested the Cursillo Movement as an effective means for guiding individuals into a personal encounter with Jesus Christ where they become aware of his love for them. Discipleship is the natural offspring of this relationship and opens hearts to the workings of our shepherd Pope Francis who is leading us to the poor; exactly where Jesus began his work. Retreats such as Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), Kairos and TEC are modeled on the Cursillo Movement.
“Catholic social teaching may become the dynamic social force in the world,” under the charismatic leadership of Pope Francis, Father Nieli said. He highly recommended reading “The Joy of the Gospel” as well as “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.”
Budde, who has worked in Social Justice ministries for nearly 20 years, said the conference showed the unity of the church’s social mission to promote the life and dignity of every human person.
“This mission is accomplished by the whole church through many ministries: serving pregnant women and families; serving the poor; bringing prayer, study and hope to those in prison; assisting the immigrant; advocating for life, justice, and the common good; spreading the Good News of Jesus through our missionary efforts; showing solidarity with our sisters and brothers around the world.”
The mission of Jesus is big and it takes the whole church working together to accomplish it, Budde said.
Breakout sessions in English and Spanish offered educational opportunities for attendees to learn more about social justice ministries in the Austin Diocese.
Prison chaplain Father David Link, the assistant director of Religious Services at the Indiana Department of Corrections, captivated listeners with anecdotes from his life experiences. After a career as an attorney and service in presidential administrations, including under President John F. Kennedy, he worked as Dean of the Notre Dame Law School and President of the University of Notre Dame Australia. Then after losing his beloved wife of 45 years, Father Link was ordained a Catholic priest at the age of 71. 
It was his wife who inspired him to get involved in Prison Ministry and working with the homeless. As he shared stories of his personal experiences with ex-offenders, whom he calls “brothers and sisters,” Father Link said, “I went into prison ministry to redeem lost souls and it turned out they redeemed me.” 
Sara Ramirez, executive director of Catholic Charities in Central Texas (CCCTX), addressed the issue of poverty, beginning with a startling statistic that more than 17 percent of people residing in the boundaries of the Diocese of Austin live in poverty. Poverty comes in a variety of forms, including financial, educational, social and spiritual poverty. 
“Government programs are not the answer to poverty. They are needed, but not the answer,” she said. 
Through programs such as the Gabriel Project Life Center, Immigration Legal Services and Disaster Relief Services, Catholic Charities attempts to address all areas of poverty. 
“When a family walks through the doors of CCCTX, they are destitute and humiliated; they don’t want to be judged. They are walking on their knees,” Ramirez said. 
She asked people to get involved to help end poverty and suggested becoming an ambassador for the charity of one’s choice or a volunteer for CCCTX. The offering of time, talent and/or financial support is vital to their success, she said.
The conference offered additional sessions on end-of-life issues, immigration, missionary discipleship and cultural diversity. 
Budde said the conference reminded all the participants that “we are called to proclaim the joy of the Gospel with our words and with our lives … This is our privilege and our duty through our baptism.”