Archbishop Aquila: ‘be courageous witnesses’ to Christianity
Faithful at annual Catholic conference exhorted to be martyrs for the faith
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by Daniel Petty for the DCR
Opposition is mounting and virtue is floundering, but Catholics are called to stand firm in their faith as urged by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter opening the Year of Faith.
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila exhorted all the faithful convened at the annual Living the Catholic Faith Conference in Denver to be martyrs in the face of local and national attacks on the faith—from legislation undermining traditional marriage and religious liberty to threats on the dignity of life.
“From all corners, the dignity of the human person is under attack, God is being removed from everything, the Church is being marginalized, morality is being compromised or said to be non-existent, and believers are being ridiculed for their beliefs,” he said March 1 at the Colorado Convention Center downtown. “In a very real sense, we are already called to a type of heroic martyrdom by living our faith in the public square. Yet most of us know that our vocation to witness is going to get keep getting harder.”
He pointed to the example of first-century St. Ignatius of Antioch who was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum because of his Christian witness. Today, too, Catholics should be ready for the radical witness and discipleship they may be called to do.
“I hope and pray that we are prepared to be courageous witnesses to truth in the months and years ahead,” Archbishop Aquila said. “I hope that in the moments of crisis, we will stand firm in faith, giving witness by what we say and do.”
Thousands listened to the sobering words and practical spiritual advice the archbishop offered at the start of the two-day conference themed “Stand Firm in the Faith” in downtown Denver.
“I think he’s so full of the love of Jesus,” said Karen Morroni, of Sacred Heart of Mary Parish in Boulder, after the archbishop’s keynote. His words on becoming martyrs in response to local religious threats, she said, were “very humbling and alerting.”
A challenging yet empowering message was woven throughout conference March 1-2. Some of the Catholic community’s top leaders, including FOCUS-founder Curtis Martin, Theology of the Body Institute-president Damon Owens and Catherine of Siena Institute-co-founder Sherry Weddell, spoke about fighting moral relativism and gaining confidence in living out the Gospel.
Youths in grades eight to 12 were led on a series of presentations on knowing, modeling, loving and sharing the faith. Owens, author and speaker Tammy Evevard and archdiocesan director of priestly vocations Father Jim Crisman led these talks.
A special conference track was also offered in Spanish by speakers Andrés Arango, Omar Ontiveros and the Archdiocese of Mexico’s Our Lady of Guadalupe expert Msgr. Eduardo Chavez.
Outside of the conference rooms, Catholics from across the Rocky Mountain region were abuzz visiting organization’s booths in the exhibit area and sharing fellowship.
As she was leaving Msgr. Chavez’s talk March 2, Margarita Martinez of Denver’s St. Rose of Lima Parish said: “Msgr. Chavez has shown me beautiful things about the Virgin of Guadalupe that were hidden from me before. She is the New Ark of Christ. I love the Virgin more now!”
Owens gave the March 1 afternoon keynote speech on “Marriage and the New Evangelization.” He discussed the magnitude of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and how the human body reveals truth about every human person.
“We are connected through our salvation story,” Owens said, “and the story of God who created us deliberately in his image and likeness and formed each one of us in a unique and unrepeatable way.”
Photo by Daniel Petty for the DCR
The more each person presses “into the truth of who are as a human person, the more we come to understand the God in whose image and likeness we’re made,” he said.
Archbishop Aquila ended his presentation with words of wisdom and practical steps for how to stand firm in the faith.
Faith, he told the crowd, is a decision to respond and receive God’s love and it is an act of trust. God asks Christians to give their lives to him, which was made possible when he gave his only son, Jesus Christ, for them to know and love. Catholics may come to know Christ by cooperating and being docile to his love, by prayerfully reading Scripture, practicing lectio divina and taking advantage of courses offered through the Catholic Biblical School and the Augustine Institute.
In addition, Catholics need to live and love the sacramental life of the Church, he said. He strongly urged making Sunday Mass a priority, going to confession monthly and committing to a Holy Hour weekly.
Catholics must further witness to their faith.
“I began this talk by addressing the times we live in,” Archbishop Aquila said. “We should take them seriously. And we should be prepared to stand firm in faith, especially as trouble comes. But we should not wait for trouble to come.
“Rather, as followers of Jesus, our call is to be witnesses now,” he asserted. “Our call is to propose to the world the truth of Jesus.”