BISHOP SCHARFENBERGER AT the National Catholic Youth Conference with Alexandra Daily, a teen from the Albany Diocese.
As I write this article, I am filled with joy, pride and gratitude, surrounded by 274 young, vibrant and evangelizing people from throughout our beautiful Diocese. Young at heart and eager to accompany others on their faith journeys, they will be going back to their parishes to share their prayer, creativity and energy with local leadership and ministry teams, ready and willing to open wide the doors of their communities to the living Lord who inspires them.
We are in Indianapolis at NCYC 2017: the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference. Of the 274 here, 199 are youths and 75 are with them as parents, chaperones and coaches, because they believe in our young people and their power to make our faith communities grow and flourish.
I pledge to them and to our parishes my confident and unreserved support, love and encouragement. I urge all of our parishes to welcome them, hear their stories and engage them actively in parish visioning, planning and building.
If you are looking for fresh ideas on how to bring more people into active parish participation, these are the people you need to know and welcome. They are only waiting to be asked. In fact, many of them will be approaching you even before being asked!
If you are looking for ideas on how to engage people of all ages, especially young people, these are the folks to talk to.
If you are looking for ways to evangelize your local communities as we begin "Re-Igniting our Faith," our diocesan-wide campaign to develop evangelizing and catechizing leadership (and the accompanying personal and material resources in all our parishes), these young people are ready to work with you to craft and carry out your hopes and dreams. Seek them out and engage them.
Celebrating Thanksgiving this week, we are all mindful of the blessings we enjoy in our country, where we are free to live and practice our faith without restraint or constraint, as our First Amendment guarantees. These freedoms, however, are only empty promises unless we actually use them. Faith only grows when it is put into action and proclaimed by word and example.
The same sun that lights our day rises and sets in areas of the world where people -- including the young -- are tortured and killed for practicing their faith publicly. This Sunday is the solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Throughout all the churches of our land, we will be remembering those persecuted for their faith.
We all know the consequences of the silence in so many high circles -- religious, political and academic -- during the genocidal and racial atrocities of the last century, in Europe, Asia and Africa. Recently, I traveled to central Europe to walk in the steps of those who were systematically persecuted, tortured and killed in the Shoah (Holocaust), just for their Jewish blood.
This experience has deepened and emboldened my conviction that, as one who is enjoying the freedoms I do just by being born in America, I cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye toward brothers and sisters under God's same sun who are not experiencing those freedoms.
Thanksgiving, for me, takes on new depths of meaning this year.
It is cowardice to be silent in the face of such atrocities, pandering to a politically-correct agenda -- especially now, when increasing persecution is committed against Christians, often in the name of a religion or ideology or in specific countries or areas of the globe, such as the stark reality of the targeting of Chaldean Christians in Iraq, with the beheading of children by ISIS.
The plight of minority Christians, especially in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, will be the focus of the "Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians" Nov. 26, an observance in which the United States bishops invite us all to join.
It is a moral imperative to confront evil by calling out hate-filled, systemic religious persecution, to tell the truth that there appears to be a growing wall of hostility toward Christians. (An accompanying story in The Evangelist's print edition speaks of how the poor in China are even being paid by the government to replace religious images with portraits of the country's president, Xi Jinping.)
Catholic News Service just reported that, according to a report titled, "Persecuted and Forgotten," published by Aid to the Church in need, covering August 2015-July 2017, there is a contiguous line of nations in the Middle East and Asia, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and India, extending through China to North Korea, and in Africa from Nigeria to Egypt, including the Sudan and Eritrea, where "the situation has declined," according to the report's remarkably restrained words, "as a result of violence and oppression."
As we sit down for our Thanksgiving dinners, we need to pause for a moment of prayer to thank God for our nation, where, for all of our historical and present sins and flaws, we can worship God and live our faith freely and openly.
We remember those who have gone before us and those living today, suffering and dying just for professing their faith.
We also ask God's blessing on our young people, courageously witnessing to their faith, that they may never doubt God's love for them and our love and gratitude for their boldness and passion.
Without them, we would not have a future. With them, we will build a world where all can praise the God who loves that greatest gift of creation: human beings made and living in the image and likeness of God.
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
(November 22, 2017)