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Humility, prayer, real friendship required for evangelization, say new Vatican consultants

Petroc Willey, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, is seen in this undated photo. Willey is among 15 new consultants named by Pope Francis April 25, 2023, to the Vatican's Dicastery for Evangelization. Also named was Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). (OSV News photo/courtesy Franciscan University of Steubenville)

(OSV News) — Two newly appointed Vatican consultants on evangelization told OSV News that prayer, humility and authentic friendship are key to spreading the Gospel, particularly among youth and young adults.

“People are waiting to hear that there’s a God who loves them and has a plan for them,” said Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), an international Catholic outreach serving close to 200 college campuses and more than 20 parishes.

Martin and Petroc Willey, professor of catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, were among 15 consultants appointed by Pope Francis April 25 to the Dicastery for Evangelization’s first section. Led by Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the section promotes evangelization, missionary discipleship, catechesis and engagement in those nations where Christianity is well established.

Both Martin and Willey, who previously served as consultors to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization under Pope Benedict XVI, bring long experience with evangelizing college students to their new roles — a qualification that enables them to grasp the local and universal aspects of evangelization.

“This little section of Ohio … where I now live is an amazing reminder of the global church,” said Willey. “In Franciscan University’s library are hung all of the flags of the international student population who have studied here. It is inspiring for me also to be able to work in (the university’s) Catechetical Institute and support the work of its International Guild of Catechists, both of which have this kind of broad reach … with evangelizers and catechists in more than 35 countries.”

Martin said that FOCUS is “watching the overflow” as its more than 55,000 alumni “take the Gospel everywhere” beyond college campuses, into the realms of “religious vocations, families, parishes, businesses, law and politics.”

Amid rapid advances in technology as well as increased secularization, the work of evangelization continues to draw first on the church’s enduring principles, said Willey.

“The church has an incredible heritage of wisdom and centuries of experience about evangelization and effective formation,” he said, citing the parable of the sower (Mt 13:1-9, Mk 4:1-20, Lk 8:4-8,11-15) as a key example.

“The seed given … crucially reminds us that this is God’s work, undertaken in the power of the Holy Spirit,” said Willey. “He always provides the grace needed for conversion.”

At the same time, “the state of the soil in the parable reminds us that the blockages and obstacles are many,” he said, with “the hard soil (reminding) us of the cultural impediments, as well as the hardness of heart that can exist.”

Evangelization requires a willingness to “lead with friendship and gain trust,” particularly given heightened polarization and divisiveness in the U.S., said Martin.

FOCUS missionaries “get to know (young people) where they are,” he said. “We’re out there hiking, skiing, playing frisbee, having a pizza with them. We develop friendships in noncontroversial ways, and then when controversy does arise, it’s among friends who are more likely to listen and interpret (differences) in a positive light.”

Simply asking others if “the world is the way it ought to be” — which tends to elicit a negative answer — can provide “common ground,” said Martin. “By saying ‘no,’ you’ve already indicated that you agree there’s a standard.”

The Gospel message can then be proposed, said Willey, since “evangelization is all about the transmission of life — of the Life (Jesus) — and that means restoring sense, order and hope.”

Martin and Willey both stressed the centrality of prayer and sacramental grace to the mission of evangelization.

“We have an enemy (Satan), so prayer and fasting and the bold call to faith on the part of evangelizers are vital,” said Willey.

Martin said FOCUS missionaries rely on daily “Mass, holy hours, rosaries and chaplets of Divine Mercy.”

“We tell them, ‘Before you talk to college students about God, talk to God about college students,'” he said.

Willey said that evangelization also requires “a certain confidence that God works often in apparent obscurity.”

“Disciples are made here and now, in our day-to-day circumstances,” he said. “God sees us and works through us in the mundane.”

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.

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