COLUMBIA—As the heat index in the Midlands climbed into the triple digits, hundreds of people sought to ignite a fire of a different kind inside the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center on Aug. 13.
The On Fire with Faith and Hispanic Ministry conferences were held there at the same time, and more than 800 people turned out for a day of prayer, worship, education and encouragement. The theme for both conferences was “Casting the Nets of Mercy.”
On Fire with Faith was postponed in October because of the devastating floods that hit the state, so organizers decided to hold the conferences together this summer to give members of the English- and Spanish-speaking communities a chance to interact and collaborate with each other. An estimated 700- 750 people attended the Hispanic Ministry event.
The conference started with hundreds of people offering morning prayers together in the main exhibit hall. A group of musicians sang upbeat praise music in Spanish and members of Hispanic ministry teams led people in song, often accompanying the lyrics with upbeat gestures.
One look at the crowd in the exhibit hall showed the diversity of people who attended. Families with children, senior citizens, teenagers and young adults sat and stood side by side and prayed together.
Keynote speeches and breakout sessions were held in both English and Spanish.
One of the keynoters was Hector Molina, a dynamic evangelist and speaker nicknamed the “Motivangelist.” Molina has worked as a catechist and an apologist for Catholic Answers and is currently CEO of Casting Nets Ministries, Inc., an apostolate that leads missions and retreats around the country.
He spoke in both English and Spanish about the need for Catholics to take their role as evangelists seriously and to share the Gospel with the mercy and love Pope Francis has encouraged during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“Pope Francis wants us to reflect on our charge as Christians to make fruitful the mercy of God on Earth,” Molina said. “We need to reflect more deeply on our duty to reflect mercy in everything we do.”
He said the Year of Mercy is an important milestone for the Church because it reminds all of the faithful that mercy is at the very center of God’s message and of everything He does for his people, beginning with the life he gives them at conception.
“God’s divine mercy dispels darkness — that’s a message the world needs to hear,” he said. “Mercy is one of God’s greatest attributes, and it is central to his continued deliverance of His people. We need to learn to show that mercy in our lives, to have a heart that goes out to those who are suffering.”
Molina encouraged everyone to focus on their relationship with Christ, to learn how to focus on God’s will in their lives and to strive for holiness.
“Jesus Christ is the manifestation and the personification of the Father’s mercy, and you cannot evangelize unless you know Him, unless you first become a disciple,” he said.
Keynoter Carole Eipers, executive director of catechetics for publisher William H. Sadlier Inc., came out onstage initially dressed in costume and used a fireman’s hat and other props to illustrate her speech “Evangelizers, Stoking the Fire, Sounding the Alarm.” Her message was that any Catholic, of any age, can be an effective evangelizer.
Eipers encouraged participants to live the message of the Year of Mercy by reaching out to all people that God brings them in contact with.
“Are we aware of who is with us in our parishes, in our community?” she asked. “It is important to leave our comfort zones and to learn to minister to whoever is there with us. Ask yourself where God is calling you to use your gifts in a new way, and deepen your trust in God to teach you to evangelize in a new way.”
Dozens of breakout sessions led by priests, women religious, and lay people included topics such as: Scripture studies, music ministry, the Church’s perspective on family issues, and tips on self-care and forgiveness for people dealing with stress in their jobs and personal lives.
Michael Martocchio, director of the Office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation, offered a workshop “Ecology and the Gospel”, which focused on Church teachings and the writings of Pope Francis concerning care for the earth and the environment. Sister Pamela Smith discussed the differences between the ordained, religious and lay vocations, and what draws people to follow God’s call in different ways.
The day’s events concluded with a bilingual Mass in the main exhibit hall celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.
The joint conference was sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation and the Office of Hispanic Ministries.
Top photo: Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: People of all ages sing during a prayer service to open the On Fire with Faith and Hispanic ministry events.