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The InterVIEW

A new evangelist to the church’s evangelizers

Speaker Hector Molina greets Stephen Amann after a Sept. 6 talk at the Chicago Catholic Men’s Conference. He will be the keynote speaker in English and Spanish at Parish Leadership Day Feb. 7. Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

Hector Molina, a native Brooklynite who now serves as the director of the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, will be the keynote speaker at Parish Leadership Day, a conference for people who are active in their parishes, Feb. 7 at Maria High School. He responded to e-mail questions from assistant editor Michelle Martin.

Catholic New World: How did you get started in evangelization?

Hector Molina: Like many Puerto Ricans at the time, my grandparents came over to the mainland from Puerto Rico and settled in the northeast United States. Like my parents, I was raised in a bilingual and multicultural environment, one that was steeped in the practice of our Catholic faith.

During my teenage years I became involved with “Jornadas de Vida Cristiana,” a Hispanic youth movement that was quite active in evangelization in my diocese. I was invited to attend one of its retreats, where I had a profound and life-changing encounter with the Lord. It was during this retreat when I first began to discern the call to my ministry as an evangelist.

After high school, I pursued my theological studies at St. John’s University and shortly thereafter was hired as a pastoral associate of an inner-city parish, where I served for 11 years.

During my years in parochial ministry, my reputation as a preacher and evangelist grew. I began receiving invitations to preach parish missions and retreats and to speak at Catholic conferences throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2003, I was hired by then-Archbishop of St. Louis Justin Rigali (now cardinalarchbishop of Philadelphia) as director of Hispanic ministry. In 2007, our former archbishop, now Archbishop Emeritus Raymond Burke, appointed me founding director of the Office of the New Evangelization.

CNW: What is a modern-day evangelist and how did you come to be one?

Molina: I think a distinction needs to be made between the terms “evangelizer” and “evangelist.” In my view, every disciple of Christ and baptized member of the church is called to be an “evangelizer.” An evangelizer is someone who proclaims Christ and his Gospel by word and testimony of life, in fulfillment of Christ’s command. This is our common mission as believers.

An evangelist is someone whose particular spiritual gifts and charism are tied to the preaching of the Gospel and making disciples.

A “modern-day” evangelist is someone who is passionately and creatively committed to communicating the timeless Gospel of Jesus Christ in new and exciting ways that engage the modern culture.

The first step in my becoming an evangelist was my encounter with Christ. St. Paul tells us in Rom 10:17 that “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.” It was during that youth retreat where I “heard” the word of God and the “preaching of Christ.” As a result of my encounter with the Lord, my life was changed. I was a new creation in Christ, transformed by his grace and mercy, renewed by his divine life and filled with his love.

When one encounters Christ, one receives a commission. St. Mark concludes his Gospel with the words of Christ to his disciples “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). This is what is referred to as the Great Commission”.

The “Great Commission” flows from the “Great Commandment,” which is the new commandment given to us by Jesus Christ to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We evangelize because we are moved by our love of God and of neighbor. St. Paul put it best when he said, “For the love of Christ impels me” (2 Cor 5:14).

Throughout the course of my ministry, I discerned (through much prayer and with the help of a spiritual director) what my spiritual gifts and charism were. This discernment is something that I believe is sorely lacking in our church today.

CNW: Explain what the Office of the New Evangelization does.

Molina: The Office of the New Evangelization was founded to promote mission and evangelization at all levels of our archdiocesan structure and to help create what I call “a missionary culture.” One of the real challenges that we face in dioceses nationwide is a lack of vision and a clear sense of mission. This leaves many of our diocesan offices stagnant and steeped in mediocrity. They tend to operate out of a maintenance modality.

There is little understanding of evangelization as the primary and essential mission of the church. This hampers our ability to fulfill our missionary mandate as Christ’s church. One of our chief goals in our apostolate is to creatively engage the many structures in our archdiocese to promote a common missiology that transforms these structures from within. It’s quite simple. We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot evangelize unless we are first evangelized. Our office is devoted to creating a truly missionary culture within the archdiocese that engages everyone in the advancement of the Gospel.

CNW: Do you see Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization bearing fruit?

Molina: Absolutely! The new springtime that our late Holy Father described is upon us. When you look at what has unfolded in the church here in the United States over the last decade, it is quite amazing. John Paul II described the New Evangelization as being new in its ardor, methods and expression.

This is precisely what you see in the missionary explosion that is taking place in Catholic radio and television, the growth in the Catholic apologetics movement, the founding of new religious orders and Catholic universities that are centered on Christ and are faithful to the magisterium, new evangelization apostolates, the list goes on and on.

CNW: What message will you be giving your audiences in Chicago?

Molina: I plan to bring a message of encouragement to all of the Catholic leaders in Chicago, a message that will edify and inspire. The message will be the same essentially for both my English and Spanish speaking audiences, a message that I hope will challenge every one of the participants to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the grace that is offered to them as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

I will begin by asking a fundamental question that will hopefully lead the participants to examine their ministerial and leadership paradigm: “Are we fishers of men, or keepers of the aquarium?”