Conference shines light on missionary discipleship

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By Tony C. Diaz
Umatuna Si Yu’os

Every Christian is a missionary disciple of Christ and being a missionary does not only pertain to those who travel great distances to share the Gospel with others in foreign lands.

Missionary work takes place right in our own homes, with our families and everyday people we engage with in our lives.

That’s one of the messages Archbishop Michael Byrnes shared with a packed house of Catholics at the 2017 Catechetical Conference Saturday, Sept. 16.

Sharing personal stories of his own experience growing up in a devout Catholic family in Michigan, Archbishop Byrnes centered his keynote talk on the conference theme, “Living As Missionary Disciples.”

The splendidly decorated Phoenix Center at Father Dueñas Memorial School in Ta’i drew one of the largest crowds in the history of the annual archdiocesan conference.

There were at least 450 participants… 450 disciples.

Including volunteers, conference organizers and helpers such as the FDMS students, the Phoenix Center flourished with more than 550 people.

It marked the first Guam Catechetical Conference for Archbishop Byrnes whom Pope Francis assigned Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña last Oct. 31.

Approaching his first anniversary at the helm filled with challenges and difficulties, the 59-year-old bishop first defined what it meant to be missionary disciples.

“Disciple is actually an activity word,” he said. “A disciple is one who is daily attempting, striving, accomplishing in some way the alignment of everything in his or her life to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He explained that the word in Greek signifies a learner, a student, or an apprentice.

“A disciple in the day of Jesus became an apprentice to the rabbi, they lived with him, they engaged in whatever trade was engaged in and they learned from him about the law of God,” Archbishop Byrnes said.

“Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means we’re in daily contact with him and that in so far as we’re able, we’re aligning everything in our life to what he teaches and how he empowers us to live,” he said.

“We add the word ‘missionary’  just to emphasize a particular point,” Archbishop Byrnes continued. “Jesus said to the men and women who were becoming his disciples…‘Follow me.’ That means actually trying to do what I do and you will become fishers of men.”

The missionary aspect is emphasized in the theme of the conference for instance but it’s just part of normal discipleship, the archbishop said. “A disciple is actually somebody who is a fisher of men, who is actually going out to attract others into the life of Jesus.”

Most people associate missionary work with trekking to a foreign land and bringing the Gospel to a people for the first time. However, Archbishop Byrnes said the pope has been emphasizing that “everything in our life is missionary.”

“Why? Because we live in a culture that is straying farther and further from Christian truth,” Archbishop Byrnes said.

He encouraged everyone to be missionaries and witnesses to Christ right in their own homes.

“Being missionary means being missionary to one’s own family,” the archbishop said. “Giving witness to the difference Jesus makes in one’s life, even just in the family.”

People come to Christ through attraction, by someone introducing them to him, Archbishop Byrnes said.

“The key here is that missionary doesn’t necessarily mean going somewhere else. It means being missionary in the context in which you live already,” Archbishop Byrnes said. “It means being willing to share a simple thing, a simple thought: ‘What difference has Jesus made in your life?’”

How we live, how we speak and especially how we conduct ourselves as we love and live like Christ, will be noticed by others.

“When it comes to Christianity, people are looking for witnesses. People whose lives are credible as disciples of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said.

He said that the catechists, religion teachers, theology teachers, clergy, and religious who comprised much of the conference audience were the people at the front lines of sharing the Gospel at their sites.

The archbishop urged them to make a difference in people’s lives.

The conference began in the morning with Father Paul Gofigan leading the blessing and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with the Traveling Monstrance which is visiting each parish as part of the Year of Reparation.

Archbishop Byrnes and other priests celebrated Mass and the day of fellowship included talks by other guests, table discussions, and fellowship.

Cynthia Agbulos of the conference planning group led welcoming remarks and spoke about the Archdiocesan Faith Formation Training of Trainers program on what all catechists should be teaching at their sites. Archbishop Byrnes blessed and commissioned the first group – or cohort – of trainers who will then train others in our church.

Representatives from Our Lady of Lourdes, San Isidro, Nuestra Señora de las Aguas and Santa Teresita parishes shared “CCD Success Stories” as well as strategies and methods at their respective sites. Sarah Thomas-Nededog, -chairperson of the Task Force for the Protection of Minors, gave an update on “Protecting God’s Children” and the archdiocese’s efforts to combat child abuse.

Påle’ Mike Crisostomo spoke about the 100th year anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima, techa Rosa Santos led the Rosary and Father Jeff shared closing remarks.