Leaders launch initiative to send faithful forth ‘Juntos’

‘Together Let Us Go Forth’ aimed at prepping diocese for days, decades ahead

Some of the final words Catholics hear the priest say at Mass are poised to take on a more intimate meaning beginning this fall.

Say it now. Say it often.

“Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” is a special diocesan initiative of the Office of Mission Advancement. Its name derives from a cross between the priest’s Mass-end reminder to “Let us go forth to love and serve the Lord” alongside inspiration from St. Junípero Serra’s motto, “Siempre adelante, nunca atrás (Always forward, never back).”

The saint, canonized in 2015, helped evangelize the Southwest as did St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Padre Eusebio Kino. All are patrons of this new diocesan effort and invoked in a special Prayer for Evangelization that accompanies it.

“Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” is an historic opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those visionaries. It calls Catholics to strengthen their own life within the Church and community as disciples. From that should flow a natural energy that inspires others — especially youth, converts and re-verts — to explore the faith. The two-fold purpose is why the faithful will also hear the effort referred to as a “Campaign for Discipleship and Evangelization.”

“I hope that the main thing that happens is that we will have many more missionary disciples and people of every age and culture who know Jesus Christ and love Him and therefore, invite others to follow Him,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said in an interview with The Catholic Sun. “I also hope that we will have needed facilities to celebrate the sacred mysteries, and to celebrate the faith” at the high school, Newman Center and parish level.

The initiative falls right in line with Pope Francis’ prayer intention for September: “That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen.”

“We are tasked by God, as every generation is, to be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us for both the present and the future,” Bishop Olmsted wrote in a letter found in campaign literature. A similar version was shared at weekend Masses from the pulpit or via the parish bulletin.

The bishop recalled with gratitude the families, friends and strangers of the past who looked toward the future in faith and stewardship “that gave us 117 parishes/missions, 28 Catholic elementary schools and six Catholic high schools, bringing countless people to a personal relationship with Jesus.”

To build on that foundation, Bishop Olmsted and an array of campaign leaders formally launched “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” Sept. 13-17. They began in Flagstaff with a special Mass and address followed by a formal dinner in Phoenix for invited guests Sept. 14. All told, they introduced the grassroots idea to nearly 500 people from roughly 50 parishes.

Sandwiched in the middle was a Sept. 15 article about the endeavor in The Phoenix Business Journal. The campaign was announced to parishioners at all weekend Masses Sept. 16-17 via a letter shared personally with Massgoers or via the bulletin.

All of the events coincided with the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s Sept. 14 visit to the Diocese of Phoenix. They also served as a formal starting point as leaders look ahead to the diocese’s 50th anniversary in 2019 and far beyond.

“The disciple leaves a place better than he or she found it,” Fr. Greg Schlarb, the diocesan vicar of stewardship said.

The Campaign for Discipleship and Evangelization is a chance to do that both internally within one’s soul and externally within parish and diocesan life. It will enhance eight key areas of local Church efforts:

  • direct parish support
  • ministry support
  • the poor and elderly through a forthcoming Francis Mercy Fund
  • seminarian support
  • Newman Centers
  • growth and development of Catholic schools
  • tuition assistance
  • St. John Paul II Catholic High School

Planting the cross

“What awaits is that triumph of the cross when we will officially kick off this campaign publicly,” Fr. Schlarb said during a mini launch with staff at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. The Sept. 14 public kickoff in Phoenix fell on the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

This wooden cross is the guiding symbol for the “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign that Phoenix’s Catholic leaders launched Sept. 13-14 in Flagstaff and Phoenix, respectively. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

The cross is not a burden, he said. “It’s realizing that the love of Christ is with us.”

Bishop Olmsted agreed, calling to mind Jesus’ words, “Unless you take up my cross … you cannot be my disciple.” “The only way our faith will be alive is if we embrace the cross,” he continued. “The missionaries, especially the Franciscans, had the tradition of planting the cross in the sand. So that’s our roots, but we know that to hand on the faith, we ourselves, have to be living a sacrificial life and see that requirement as good news.”

Each of the 26 members of the campaign’s volunteer cabinet and leadership received a dark wooden cross with a turquoise center as a reminder of their sacrifice toward the effort. It mirrors the campaign logo with an alternate version on parts of the campaign’s bilingual website, togethergoforth.org, and some campaign literature depicting a white cross with a turquoise center.

“We chose to put our cross in our main room so we can see it from the kitchen, dining room and family room,” said Melissa Fees. “For us, it’s become a main focus for how we are trying to center our lives. The kids all know what it represents spiritually and with regards to the campaign.”

Fees and her husband John are Arizona natives who grew up in East Valley parishes and now attend St. Thomas the Apostle.

“Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” seeks to join the faithful of the diocese in prayer and faith while also raising $100 million to ensure the diocese’s foundation remains strong for generations to come. It can be a lofty goal, but diocesan leaders remind the faithful that regular tithing allowed the diocese to engage in $285 million worth of construction to build or improve churches, schools, offices and other facilities in the last 10 years.

Bishop Olmsted pointed out the simple math behind the Campaign for Discipleship and Evangelization. It asks for $100 per person. If all 1.1 million Catholics do their share, the goal is reached.

Cande de Leon, executive director of the diocesan Office of Mission Advancement, greets a guest at the Phoenix kickoff for the “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign Sept. 14 at The Sheraton Grand in Phoenix. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Cande de Leon, executive director of the diocesan Office of Mission Advancement which is overseeing the campaign, advised those in the pew to put their complete faith in the Lord and sacrifice a little bit.

“It’s going to be like the loaves and the fishes,” de Leon said. “It’s nothing else but a testimony of their love for Jesus,” because they see Jesus in the people that they’re serving.

Seeing the road ahead

Among the eight needs the campaign will address, several really tug at the heart of Bishop Olmsted. A priest retirement facility will strengthen fraternity and combat isolation. Additionally, meeting the needs of high-school and college-age students will combat stats “that the greatest number of people falling away from the faith is 15-25-year-olds.”

Diocesan Growth

Since established Dec. 2, 1969

464% (from 200K Catholics to 1.1 million)

 

West Valley Projected Growth
(2020 and 2040)

Goodyear: 6.9% and 400%

Buckeye: 6.5% and 255%

Peoria: 3.2% and 164%

The campaign is also designed to meet the Valley’s growth at Catholic schools and in parishes. There are some 70,000 high-school-age kids in the West Valley with three area cities projecting larger-than-normal population booms. The Valley on a whole is the nation’s fifth fastest-growing metro area.

Bishop Olmsted invited the faithful to be “missionary saints of our day” and treat the diocese as mission territory.

“Imagine how different your life would be if Jesus weren’t in your life right now … How would this world be different? How would Phoenix be different? For so many people, this is their reality,” Bishop Olmsted said.

The campaign can change that. It’s rooted in prayer. Diocesan leaders wrote a Prayer for Evangelization to be used with the campaign. It invokes the name of the four patrons, two whom once visited the Diocese of Phoenix — St. John Paul II in 1987 and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1989.

“It is very rare to have saints canonized within the last 25 years to visit our diocese and is a sign that we can also have a deep relationship with Christ,” Bishop Olmsted said.

De Leon built on that, saying that their lives inspire the faithful to continue to do their work both in prayer and charity. Otherwise, their work stops. He called to mind the words of Mother Teresa: be faithful in small things with great love.

He encouraged the faithful to offer the campaign prayer on their own or as a parish. It may become particularly prominent during the six-month block that the campaign comes to each parish and mission. There are five blocks running through December 2019.