By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 21, 2023
SMYRNA—The work of the faithful is to be “agents of sabotage” against evil to collaborate with God in the re-creation of the world, Father John Riccardo of Acts XXIX told a sold-out crowd at Rescue Atlanta.
Rosa Parks fought segregation, Sophie Scholl fought the Nazis and Joan of Arc acted courageously. These women acted despite fear because of their faith, Father Riccardo said. In the same way, people must live the Gospel.
“The weapons we use are truth, goodness, kindness, love, forgiveness, character, dignity, reconciliation, and the enemy is the enemy, period,” he said.
The priest’s message inspired both women and men, filling a large convention hall in Cobb Galleria, to be “mobilized for mission.”
At times, the work is to be in “agonizing prayer on behalf of the world,” Father Riccardo said. Other times may call for more active service.
Jim Schippers, 63, and Melenie Choto, 57, embraced each other during the final blessing. They worship at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, and Christ Our King and Savior Church, Greensboro.
“I feel emboldened,” said Schippers, a financial planner. He came to the event already familiar with the priest and wanted to share the experience with his wife. “I was lit up by it.”
Choto, who works in a corporate role focused on diversity, said the day of prayer, stirring talks and uplifting music, left her asking, “Where does God want my gifts?”
Revival leading to 2024 national congress
Some 1,260 men and women registered for the event on Saturday, Sept. 9. More than 70 parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta were represented. The crowd included Atlanta priests and two bishops, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., and Auxiliary Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III.
Archbishop Hartmayer led the procession, holding the Blessed Sacrament high in a monstrance. People knelt as it passed their seats. The archbishop spoke to conclude the day. In his remarks, he reminded the crowd that Jesus has saved the world, but it is not just an event from the distant past.
“Just as conversion is an ongoing experience, becoming holy is an ongoing experience,” he said. “We just keep trying to put one foot in front of the other in our own spiritual growth.”
Archbishop Hartmayer invited the audience to participate in the national Eucharistic Congress in July 2024 in Indianapolis, which he said aims to revive the church on the parish, diocesan and national levels.
The Atlanta Archdiocese hosted the one-day Rescue Live event as part of its initiative to advance the national revival. The highlight is the congress where organizers estimate some 80,000 people will gather to focus on the Eucharist.
Archbishop Hartmayer commissioned the participants to leave the convention center and witness as “renewed missionary disciples” through their loving actions.
“Where you are sent, wherever it be, be witnesses to the Gospel in word and action like the Good Samaritan,” he said.
Organizers brought the initiative here to foster enthusiasm for the Gospel and encourage believers. Andrew Lichtenwalner, the director of Office of Evangelization & Discipleship, said the goal was to have “many more hearts and minds on fire with the power of the Gospel, the Good News and a greater love for and confidence in our Lord Jesus that can be shared with many others.”
The response to the story
Father Riccardo, a Detroit priest, is the leader of ACTS XXIX. It is a nonprofit of “missionaries of hope” to renew the church, according to its website. The day retreat was a revival with Father Riccardo speaking from a stage. A praise and worship band brought people to their feet.
The day featured small group discussions and a series of talks where Father Riccardo touched on steps of faith.
Father Riccardo said The Rescue Project has three goals: overwhelm people with the message of the Gospel, move them to surrender and mobilize them for the mission.
He condensed the Gospel message to its account of Easter: “Jesus on Easter Sunday is beginning the re-creation of this world which he loves.”
“We’ve each been given a part to play, one that bears our name and no one else’s,” he said. “The ancient battle rages all around us. And the adventure that we were born for beckons again.”
Roswell’s St. Peter Chanel Church sent 90 people to participate in the day of prayer and learning.
Rob Montepare, the parish mission director, said the church’s community and pastoral staff have committed to being outward focused on reaching new people. He said parish members attend civic events to build relationships by handing out water and simply being part of the community.
Inside the church building, he said that a focus is on ensuring that first-time visitors are made to feel welcome and that any questions of theirs are answered.
“The key here is for us to be effective evangelists that we have got to live like the Gospel actually makes a difference in our lives,” he said.
Jim and Kathy Roger, members of St. Stephen the Martyr Church, Lilburn, volunteered. Their T-shirts were emblazoned with “You were born for this.”
“It was just overwhelming. I believe his message has got to be preached more and more,” he said.
Kathy Roger said believers cannot just proclaim the Gospel inside the convention center. The challenge is, “We know the story, now what is our response?”