Many Catholics seem to have been inoculated against the faith in their youth, learning a little bit about the faith and turning against it because they missed having an encounter with Jesus. Holy Cross Seminary formation director Fr Michael Gielen said many people today are protected by a “huge shield”. Fr Gielen spoke at the Open Teaching night at the Catholic Discipleship College in Takapuna on June 8.

“The generation we live in today has a huge shield protecting them. [That] shield is indifference, apathy [and] relativism. You do what you like, I do what I like and as long as we don’t bother each other, we can continue happily in our ways. Anything you say to me will just wash off my shield because I don’t really care,” he told a group of largely young adults.

He said the way to cut through that is the gospel message of Jesus. “The kerygma can cut though the shield,” he stressed.

Kerygma, Fr Gielen explained, is the first proclamation of the Christian faith.

“Pope Benedict XVI called it the central explosive proclamation of the faith. There are people in your life right now who are dying to hear you proclaim this truth. Some will die without hearing it,” he said.

Quoting Pope Francis in Evangelium Gaudium, he said: “’On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’ That’s the kerygma.”

Fr Gielen said the challenge for the Church is forming Catholics in and for kerygma. “Because you won’t bear light unless you’re burning with it,” he said.

Fr Gielen said American catechist Sherry Weddell, who wrote Forming Intentional Disciples and founded the Catherine of Siena Institute, woke up to the fact that a lot of catechists do not have a relationship with Christ.

“She realised that she needed to start again from the beginning: help people to become a disciple. And once they are disciples, they can be catechists,” he said.

Fr Gielen said they used to run Alpha in their parish. The programme is about encountering Christ and the Holy Spirit.

He said about 70 to 100 people would come on the first night of the programme and then the number would steadily fall off until they had only about 10 attending.

“At about the end, 10 people would say, ‘I want to become Catholic. I met Jesus and I want to become Catholic,’” he said. “We put the Blessed Sacrament up and we’d leave it there and they’d love it. Why? Because their hearts had been pierced.”

He also spoke of his father, who had a kerygmatic experience when Fr Gielen was a child.

“My parents’ marriage when I was 8-years-old was falling into pieces. Every single one of my parents’ friends have divorced. They were the only ones who stayed together because my father had a kerygmatic encounter with the Lord. He became a revert,” he recounted.

“What stayed with me and obviously influenced my vocation was how they changed. Jesus changed them. I wanted that Jesus, that kerygma.”

Fr Gielen said after people are converted, their faith should be nurtured by the Church. He said one study showed that 80 per cent of those converted left the Church within a year because they were not accompanied in the journey of faith. “It’s the biggest weakness of our faith,” he said.

Fr Gielen identified the last two stages of catechesis as post-baptismal catechesis and permanent catechesis.

He said New Zealand used to be a stable Christian nation, but it has regressed.  But he said there ways to become instruments of the Holy Spirit.

These ways include: personal witness, discipleship, missions, retreats, parish-based activities and Pope Francis.

“There’s a great opportunity at the moment with Pope Francis. People are really feeling that he’s answering the basic questions. He understands the challenge [and] the context of the mission,” he said.