Awaken desire for truth, FOCUS leader tells synod
By Jean Torkelson
As Curtis Martin saw it, this was a fortuitous moment that doesn’t come around every day.
“When somebody says you can tell the pope whatever is on your mind, that’s a unique opportunity,” said Martin, co-founder of the Denver-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). “But first I wanted to tell him what’s on my heart.”
Martin got his chance to offer both head and heart messages as one of the participants invited to speak at the Synod of Bishops called by Pope Benedict XVI and held in Rome Oct. 7-28. The synod is a regularly recurring, worldwide convocation of clergy and laity, established by Pope Paul VI after Vatican II, to make “a common study concerning the conditions of the Church” and then discern what God is calling the Church to do given the “signs of the times.”
This year’s theme was how to implement the pope’s call for a new evangelization.
Before an audience of 350 bishops and Church leaders, Martin, a charismatic speaker and innovative evangelizer, shared the model that FOCUS has used to attract a lengthening generation of young adults and college students to the universal Church.
In his four-minute address and in subsequent working groups, Martin addressed the rebellion and apathy in the Church today and stressed that it was critical to keep driving home the Church’s fundamental truths—foremost, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the inerrancy of Scripture and the culture of life teaching in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”
“I wanted to communicate to the synod fathers and the Holy Father my deep conviction that there will be NO—capital ‘N,’ capital ‘O’—new evangelization unless there is a call to conversion on these issues,” Martin told the Denver Catholic Register.
Martin noted that since the 1970s two of the Church’s greatest challenges have been ignorance and apathy. Ignorance of Catholic teaching has been largely addressed by vastly improved catechesis, he said, but apathy still looms large.
“The Church needs to recognize that we need to awaken desire and then teach with all the fullness of the Church,” he said.
Martin said his brief address got “a lot of responses from the bishops, and all of them were positive. There was a real interest to collaborate.”
Martin also participated in one of a dozen ongoing brainstorming workshops that developed ideas to send to the pope. Martin’s workshop was led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia.
In his address and in the workshops, Martin shared the FOCUS model— “Win, Build, Send”—which over the past 14 years has reached nearly 20,000 young adults and college students. The model strives to win people to a relationship with Christ, build up believers by giving them a strong faith foundation and send them out to renew others.
“Everyone can do this (discipleship),” Martin told the synod assembly. “It is universal.”
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The model was received well by the bishops, he said, and in addition, “We had some amazing discussions.”
The bishops were urged to reinvigorate their authentic fatherly roles to include not only love but discipline. Martin told the Register the faithful are longing for a return to discipline and pleading, in effect, “Please father us; we are living in a culture devoid of authentic fatherhood.”
Better discipline would also affect the “open rebellion” of dissenters in the Church. Among them are Catholic politicians who shrink from supporting life issues because they don’t want to impose their values on others. (“Then why run for office?” Martin wondered, adding that the point of being a politician is “to impose their views on others!”)
Martin said that in the synod workshops the bishops also expressed frustrations. A major one: that the faithful don’t hear their messages except through the distorted filters of the secular media. The relationship between Church and media is admittedly strained, Martin acknowledged to the Register. He said the workshop participants urged bishops to keep the lines of communication open and to keep explaining the authentic Church—media people need evangelizing, too.
His workshop group also stressed the critical need for the Church to better spread the reality of “the personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” which is rooted in Catholic teaching and tradition but erroneously associated with Protestant thought. Bishops should visit parishes and talk about their own personal encounter with Christ, a workshop participant suggested.
“That is a homily no one would ever forget for the rest of their lives,” Martin told his workshop group.
Do synods solve anything? Martin noted that he had attended the 1985 synod as a newly returned Catholic who had been estranged from the Church for years. That synod’s mission was to address the profound confusion over Church teachings, rampant at the time, but it didn’t immediately solve anything. Yet just seven years later came the first Catechism of the Catholic Church to be promulgated in 400 years.
“So the synod itself, back in ’85, didn’t make the changes—it was the fruits that flowed from it,” Martin said.
Likewise, in 2012, “When the Church turns her gaze toward a single topic and we get to pray and work on that topic, unbelievable things happen,” Martin said. “Because of the leadership of Pope Benedict, the attention is on the new evangelization, and great things are going to come from that. I am extremely hopeful.”
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister