SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) — To evangelize in today’s world, Catholics “need to recover their sense of ardor for Jesus risen from the dead,” a Chicago priest told attendees at the national Cathedral Ministry Conference in Salt Lake City.

Father Robert Barron, a Chicago archdiocesan priest long involved in media ministry, also told his listeners that Catholics must use new methods to reach out, but he added that “the new evangelization is the same as the old evangelization in many ways, because evangelization is always about declaring the words of Jesus.”

The priest — whom Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George calls “one of the church’s best messengers” — brought the fire of the new evangelization to a primarily Catholic audience in a Jan. 10 keynote.

He currently is rector and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, and is founder of a global media ministry called Word on Fire, which aims to “educate and engage the culture.”

He also developed and hosted a 10-part video series called “Catholicism,” which has been broadcast on the Eternal Word Television Network and PBS.

In his speech, Father Barron used humor and a conversational style and referenced popular culture icons such as Bob Dylan, and Catholic Church figures ranging from St. Irenaeus, who died in the early third century and taught that the creed contains the essential truths of Christian faith, to Blessed John Paul II.

Successful evangelization “begins with the beautiful,” Father Barron said, referencing Swiss theologian Father Hans Urs von Balthasar. “The beautiful has a way of beguiling you… Begin with the beautiful … then beguile people into a consideration of the good and true.”

“The church is about bringing Christ to the world,” he said. “Christ sets the agenda for the church age in and age out.

“The church addresses whatever culture it is in, absolutely … and it does have to modernize to some degree,” he continued, “but Christ is the norm. It’s not modernization of the church, it’s Christification of the world, that’s the program.”

Close to 100 people from 37 dioceses across the United States — and one in Canada — attended the four-day Cathedral Ministry Conference in Salt Lake City Jan. 7-10. The biennial conference offers workshops and keynote speakers, but participants said the chance to meet others who share their same concerns was the most valuable part of the conference.

“They want to see how different cathedrals do their ministry,” said Msgr. Joseph M. Mayo, rector of Utah’s Cathedral of the Madeleine, which hosted the conference for the first time in its history.

Among those at the conference was Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

“It’s a good interchange of ideas and meeting people who do the same thing I do back home,” he told the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. “We all have the same problems — money, upkeep, roofs, all of those things.”

For Terri Merkley, the receptionist at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise, Idaho, a conference highlight was a presentation by Father Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, who discussed the multiple roles cathedrals can play.

“There’s something unique about the cathedrals because they’re in downtown areas,” she said.

About 50 percent of the people she deals with daily are not cathedral parishioners, they’re visitors or transients looking for assistance, she said. “It’s a unique ministry that they don’t have out in the suburbs.”

Father Glenn Dion, rector of the Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he enjoyed Father Ryan’s presentation and also the chance to network.

One aspect of Father Ryan’s keynote that also was a topic of discussion, Father Dion said, was that cathedrals can be “a pulpit that has a bite to it” and “we hope the bishops see that as part of the ministry of the cathedral.”

Commenting on Father Barron’s keynote, Msgr. Mayo told the Intermountain Catholic that the priest’s message was to “relearn what is already good, solid Catholicism and you’ll get through into the next century.”

“He restated the wonderful treasures that we have as a church,” the rector added.

Father Barron’s talk was open to the public and one non-Catholic attendee, Pamela Atkinson, a Presbyterian who is well-known for her advocacy for the homeless, said she was struck by the priest’s use of social media to reach out, particularly to younger generations.

“There are different ways for us to help people find God, Jesus Christ, but we don’t always use all of those ways,” she said. “We tend to use the old traditional ways, and he’s saying, ‘Look, there are many other ways to reach out to people and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.'”


Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.