Catholic Communities Will Transform Culture, Say Symposium Speakers

Communities bind people and communities of faith can spark a revolution of grace and love. But only if they are built on truth.

That was the tale told at Benedictine College’s 11th annual Symposium held on March 25-26 by dozens of speakers and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who celebrated Mass for attendees.

“Each year our team works hard on the Symposium, and we have been blessed to see how it continues to grow and engage more people,” said Benedictine theologian Matthew Muller, the conference’s organizer. “What we have in this Symposium is truly unique: scholars and practitioners sharing ideas on how Christians, in a variety of ways, can evangelize and transform culture.”

In his keynote Friday evening address, Sohrab Ahmari argued that, far from retreating from the world, Christians who want to make a lasting change have to directly work with real-world problems and issues. A former op-ed editor of the New York Post, he has served as contributing editor of The Catholic Herald, and columnist for First Things. Previously, he served as a columnist and editor with The Wall Street Journal opinion pages in New York and London, and as a senior writer at Commentary.

“Transforming the culture isn’t something that can be done apart from the duty to improve material reality,” he said. “This duty is just the substance of Christian politics as such.”

What groups of Christians will make this change? Stephen Bullivant addressed that question Saturday morning. He is author of Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II, and author, with Bishop Robert Barron, of Catholicism in the Time of Coronavirus spoke about “Why Community Matters — and How It Works”

Bullivant said that “multiple studies demonstrate the social dimension of conversions — social ties help prepare the way.” He said in his own case it was only being immersed in a community of Catholics that he discovered his faith.

Negatively, being in a “bubble” can cause “group polarization,” leading people to be unreasonably devoted to a cause, he said. But evangelization, which is always checked by interaction with others outside the group, changes that dynamic.

The Symposium ended with the Catherine of Siena Institute’s Sherry Weddell (pictured, top), author of Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. She pointed to the “generation of saints” in 1592-1660, when a group of Catholics of various ages, met and visited each other frequently and together made an enormous impact on France.  The saints included St. Frances de Sales, St. Jane de Chantal and St. Vincent de Paul.

“This group of friends were the center of a religious revival and reform movement whose impact was felt for 150 years,” she said. “They introduced tens of thousands of French Catholics — and then other Catholics around the world — to a profoundly Christ-centered intensely prayerful missionary spirituality open to everyone.”

The group helped create the first seminary formation, first retreat houses, and helped shape parishes into the forms they are in today.

In its first ever business track, the Symposium featured speakers who have integrated faith and community in their businesses. The business track keynote was Michael Matheson Miller, Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute, the Director and Producer of the award winning documentary film Poverty, Inc. and a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute.

Symposium speakers Larry Chapp, of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm; Notre Dame’s Leonard DeLorenzo; Jennifer Baugh, founder of Young Catholic Professionals and Pete Burak of Renewal Ministries.

Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis said the conference was timely for the school.

“The Symposium this year did a great job of showing just how important our new strategic direction, Transforming Culture in America, is to the college,” he said. “People are starving for lack of community, and Benedictine College’s mission of community, faith and scholarship is what America needs right now.”

Muller agreed. “The weekend always leaves us with greater energy and increased commitment for our mission,” he said.

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