Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Msgr. Dan Stack, pictured above with young missionaries, represented the Atlanta Archdiocese at the fourth American Missionary Congress held in Venezuela Nov. 26-Dec. 1. Originally a congress for Latin America only, it was expanded in 1999 to include Canada and the United States. It is held every four years to energize the missionary commitment of Catholic churches in the Americas.


‘Missionary America: Share your faith!’

By MSGR. DAN STACK, Special to the Bulletin | Published December 6, 2013

MARACAIBO, Venezuela—Coming to the Missionary Congress of the Americas in Maracaibo, Venezuela, was a little like coming to a huge, huge family reunion.  We are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ.

That was what I felt most from the moment I landed in Caracas to change planes for Maracaibo.  The theme of this congress was “Missionary America:  Share Your Faith!” I felt a warmth and a joy that did not wane a bit in spite of the airport being overwhelmed by the huge crowd. Going through immigration that should have taken a few minutes was more than an hour and a half! But I was in line with a priest from Honduras and parishioners from Ecuador and a priest from Argentina. We chatted, joked, spoke about our reasons for coming, talked about our parishes and how the day had gone. We had just met each other, but we spoke like old friends. We shared so much in common; especially, we shared our Lord.

Tuesday evening we gathered for an outdoor Mass, where Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, presided, in the plaza of the Basilica of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá.  It was a feast of the joy of our Lord! I ran into two priests from Guatemala, one the cousin and the other a former parochial vicar of Father Pablo Hernandez, a pastor there who is a friend of more than 20 years. I ran into a few priests from Kenya with whom I was able to use the few Swahili greetings and words I have learned from Kenyans in Georgia. There were baby priests so recently ordained I could still ask for their blessing and priests much older than me. Most of all, there were, throughout this congress, hundreds of young men and women, high school and young adult age, in their distinctive green shirts helping in so many ways. They greeted us, they directed us, they protected us, they smiled at us, they fed us. They made us feel welcome and wanted.

Pictured at the congress, a young boy’s kerchiefs show he is already an active missionary. Photo courtesy of Msgr. Dan Stack

Pictured at the congress, a young boy’s kerchiefs show he is already an active missionary. Photo courtesy of Msgr. Dan Stack

Children were so involved in this congress, in part, because in much of Latin America there is a very strong emphasis on mission and on sharing our precious faith with others. This is seen as a very normal part of the life of a Christian who is serious about their faith.

Bishop Silvio Baez, a Carmelite, auxiliary bishop of Managua, Nicaragua, gave an address titled “The Word of God as a source of meaning in today’s world” the morning of the first day. It was electrifying. His facility with the Scriptures and his ability to “open” the texts for us was wonderful.  A friend, Father Luis Alberto Herrera, a priest of Managua, had told me about a website that Bishop Baez uses to offer biblical reflection for the priests of Managua to aid in their homily preparations. Several of the priests in our group, when I told them about it, said they emphatically wanted that address! It is: I am using it today to prepare to preach to seminarians tomorrow on the first Sunday of Advent.

A good portion of the attendees were clergy and religious, but the majority were lay persons of all ages. Some families came. Some were wealthy business people, others ordinary workers. All had a passion for sharing Christ.

Several of the presenters made reference to the Holy Father’s exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) that was so applicable to our congress it seemed as if it were sent just to us. Bishop Baez quoted from it several times. It begins with what might have been the subtitle to our congress: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who ac­cept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.”

It is the job of the missionary to bring that joy to others.

Msgr. Stack, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, Cartersville, took part in the Missionary Congress of the Americas, representing the Archdiocese of Atlanta.