International evangelist and EWTN personality Chris Stefanick spoke last Thursday, Oct. 10 to a multi-generational audience at Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor. More than 700 people filled the high school auditorium to hear Stefanick talk about how to find purpose through loving God and applying the Gospel to everyday life.
Planning for the event started almost a year ago, when the Adult Faith Formation Committee at St. Margaret Parish in Narberth was looking for an opportunity for outreach and evangelization to parishioners.
“It was an enormous idea for a small parish,” said Bruce Fay, a parishioner at St. Margaret. “It took a lot of networking to make it happen.”
St. Margaret parishioners John O’Rourke and Peggy Walsh, who are siblings and members of the committee, said they were looking for a speaker who would make an impact on families in their parish. “We wanted to energize them about their faith,” said O’Rourke.
“I saw (Stefanick’s) commercials on EWTN,” said Walsh. “He has a charism about him, a gift for speaking. He speaks to about 90,000 people a year.”
Before the talk she anticipated that “the Holy Spirit is going to be alive tonight touching hearts with all different messages. We’ll see how the inspiration goes. (Stefanick) brings the Holy Spirit with him.”
Msgr. Paul Dougherty, pastor of St. Margaret’s, said, “I didn’t really know Chris Stefanick but it was easy to say ‘yes’ (to the idea).”
Various people throughout the Archdiocese worked together as part of a team to make the event happen. St. Margaret’s parish reached out to neighboring parishes for help, including Annunciation B.V.M. in Havertown, St. Colman in Ardmore, St. Denis in Havertown, St. John Neumann in Bryn Mawr, St. John Vianney in Gladwyne, St. Matthias in Bala Cynwyd, Presentation BVM in Wynnewood and Sacred Heart in Havertown.
St. Margaret also received assistance from Regina Angelorum Academy in Ardmore and from Meghan Cokeley, director for the Office of the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Archbishop Carroll joined the team by providing the venue.
Stefanick, founder and president of Denver-based Real Life Catholic, said that although he started in youth ministry his message has evolved into addressing whole families.
“The fact is that you reach kids more effectively when they’re with their parents,” he said. “If you can reach all generations at once, you should. The same exact stuff resonates with junior high kids and their grandparents. It’s as simple as that.”
For the “sleeping giant” of Catholic lay people, “it’s time to wake up,” Stefanick said. “Our mission belongs to all of us. We need to get the lay people to live the mission. Let it bug you that RCIA isn’t bigger than it is. Let it bug you there aren’t parking problems at your church.”
On stage, Stefanick described the Catholic faith as a love story. “Your life is a love story. We are made for love. God is the foundation of the love story of life. There’s no purpose without God. If there’s no God, there’s no purpose.”
Stefanick went on to describe the saints as people who “didn’t only do holy stuff on the side” but lived their faith in every moment. “St. Peter was crucified upside down. St. Bartholomew was skinned alive,” he said, and St. John Paul II “by age 21 lost everyone he ever loved,” referring to the deaths of the saint’s parents and brother, yet went on to live his Catholic faith fearlessly.
He also mentioned the passionate faith of St. Josephine Bakhita, a slave who was converted to the Catholic faith and forgave those who enslaved her, and Blessed Chiara Badano, an Italian teenager who loved Jesus and bravely battled cancer until her death in 1990. “Even death doesn’t get a period. It gets a comma,” he said.
Stefanick’s talk ended with the five habits of holy people, which include:
Love yourself: “We tell ourselves things we wouldn’t even tell our worst enemies,” he said.
Pray: “Thank (God), listen, and talk from (the) heart. Have that conversation with the Lord. Make time for him.”
Share the faith: “My children see me mess up, but they see me go to confession,” Stefanick said. They see I’m weak, but I surround myself with strong men. You don’t have to be perfect to share your faith. In Christianity, there’s no safe space. Get out of your comfort zone.”
Friendship: Stefanick encouraged deeper friendships through a return to face-to-face communication instead of relying on social media. “We have to get better at doing stupidly simple stuff again.”
Reboot: “You have a right to forget yesterday, whatever you think disqualifies you from being saint insert-your-name-here.” He said God gives us the grace to change, and we can “reboot, decide to start over (and) claim the life you were made (to live).”
Kristina Hendry of St. Philip Neri Parish in Lafayette Hill attended the event with her two grandchildren and her mother. “He sees things the way they are,” she said. “He makes you think and keeps your attention. My mother isn’t Catholic, and she’s here and enjoying it too.”
“He’s the best, and he’s really funny,” said Antonia Milani, 19, who attended the event with her father Albert Milani. “What he says applies to everybody,” Albert said. “Everybody should hear what (Stefanick) has to say. I need to hear it every day.”
The Adult Faith Formation Committee at St. Margaret plans future outreach activities. “We knew this was the beginning of something,” said Walsh. “It’s not going to end tonight.”
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