Prisca, Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus… St. Paul sends greetings to 26 disciples by name in Romans, Chapter 16 and most of them were included in the first reading at the Catholic Life Congress Mass celebrated at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Nov. 5.
“For the most part we have no idea who these people are,” Archbishop Charles Chaput told the 900 mostly teachers and catechists at the Mass. “But they may have been in the life of the Church at that time even more important than St. Paul in terms of the actual spreading of the Gospel. Just as maybe 200 years from now when the history of this part of the Church in Philadelphia is written, your names may not be known, but you might do a lot more for the spreading of the Gospel than the Archbishop whose name will certainly be on some kind of tablet somewhere.”
Each of the people mentioned by Paul had a unique role in spreading the Gospel, and “each of you here today is a person who has a starring role in the history of salvation,” he said. “In God’s plan, in God’s play, there are no extras.”
Afterward the congregation continued the discussion across the street at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel and attended workshops or discussion groups and listened to luncheon keynote speakers, with the day’s program centered on “Verbum Domini” (“The Word of the Lord”), Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 apostolic exhortation.
“You are the front line of carrying the Good News of Christ into the world,” said Thomas Smith, the main luncheon speaker. “My prayer is for this congress to be a catalyst for Philadelphia to have a real and sincere recovery of the Word of God as a centrality in the life and mission of the Church, both in our personal lives and at the diocesan level.”
Smith, a former director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School, is a frequent speaker before Catholic audiences across the country.
A separate keynote in Spanish was given to another luncheon audience by Nelly Lorenzo, a member of the faculty of DePaul University in Chicago.
In previous years the annual Catholic Life Congress was held at suburban high schools, but this year it came into the city because “we wanted to
celebrate the liturgy in the Cathedral,” said Maryanne Harrington, director of the archdiocesan Office for the Formation of the Laity. “We have a lot more people here from the city and maybe a little less from the suburbs,” she said. “I’m really excited about the keynote topic. ‘Verbum Domini’ is so important.”
In total there were 16 other presenters, priests, religious and lay men and women speaking on various aspects of presenting the Word of God. Among them was Sister Timothea Elliott, R.S.M., who spoke on The Word of God and the Joy of the New Evangelization.
In brief Cathedral remarks, Archbishop Chaput, who knew Sister Timothea from Denver where she taught at St. John Vianney Seminary, said she was the most brilliant Old Testament scholar in the world.
“He’s a little prejudiced,” laughed Sister Timothea, who has also given presentations at St. Charles
Borromeo Seminary and is currently director of Christian Formation for the Diocese of Knoxville.
“Sister Timothea’s talk was wonderful,” said Bishop John McIntyre. “Anyone who can help us love the Word of God more helps us to love Christ more. It’s wonderful to see all these people here at the Mass and at the talks.”
Gerri Dennis, one of a large contingent from St. Benedict and St. Raymond parishes in Philadelphia, echoed the sentiment of many. “It’s really a wonderful program. Very inspiring and encouraging,” she said.
Not everyone at the Congress was a teacher or catechist in the strict sense of the words. Doris Duncheskie usually attends every year, but she is a parish nurse from Holy Martyrs Parish in Oreland.
“We look at the spiritual side of people and help to healing mind, body and spirit,” she said. “I’m always looking for ways to spread the Word to people.”
And in the end that’s what it was all about.