Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

The Diocese of Superior released Bishop James P. Power’s Pastoral Letter on Evangelization on the Feast of Pentecost, a commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples that is rooted in a Jewish festival celebrating the first fruits of the wheat harvest.

Fittingly, both images – the disciples receiving the Spirit and the celebration of a providential harvest – illustrate Bishop Powers’ vision for the future of the diocesan church, which begins with equipping its more than 50,000 Catholics to become active evangelizers.

The letter was mailed to every family in the diocese in May and is also available online at

In his preface, the bishop explains that the diocese will be expanding its Maintenance to Mission evangelization initiative from the clergy, which began in 2021, to parish leaders in 2022 and now, in 2023, to lay Catholics.

“All of the baptized have an instrumental part to play in this,” he wrote. He asks families to read the letter slowly, pray about it and discuss it with fellow parishioners.


In the first sections of the letter, Bishop Powers observes that the numbers of faithful are in decline in parishes across the diocese, as cultural shifts continue to deplete Christianity’s influence on the Western world.

“In our days, we have seen that culture erode ever more swiftly. In the past decades, the broader culture has gone from generally supportive of the faith to ambivalent, to opposed, to outright hostile,” he added.

Quoting passages from Msgr. James Shea’s book “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission,” which diocesan offices have been using in the last couple of years, Bishop Powers related the reality facing Christians today – we must usher not a new Secular Age, but a second Apostolic Age.

“Brothers and sisters, that is the primary motivation for this letter,” he explained. “Sadly, we will continue to lose members – and at what cost to them and us! – unless we begin to offer a clear and attractive alternative to the secular vision that our culture is promoting. To put it simply, if Christendom is over, then it is up to us – all of us – to become apostles – to become evangelists.”

Good News

Bishop Powers calls for Catholics in the diocese to “re-encounter the power of the Gospel,” admitting for lifelong Catholics, “the ‘good news’ does not really feel like ‘news.’ Many of us have heard the same readings from Scripture day after day and week after week and year after year. These words have become a fixture in our lives that we take for granted and even ignore.”

In early Christianity, the kerygma – the proclamation of the Gospel – had an “explosive power” to deeply inspire people to change, and even sacrifice, their lives.

“Today, anyone reading this letter will probably have to really muster an emotional response,” the bishop wrote. “And the average non-religious American will hear them and simply ignore them as irrelevant.”

Fr. John Riccardo from ACTS XXIX Ministries, whose work the diocese has been utilizing the past few years, breaks down the Gospel into four stages: Created, Captured, Rescued and Response. To summarize, God created us; while we are captured by sin and death, Satan’s power is unequal to God’s; we have been rescued by Jesus; and our response to this salvation is up to us – ignore it, or surrender to Jesus in a life of discipleship and worship.

In responding to kerygma, “we embark on a path of profound beauty and meaning,” the bishop continued. Although the Gospel has not lost its relevance, “we must acknowledge there are unique challenges today,” including a society that has moved away from its Judeo-Christian roots and people who believe they know enough about Christianity to have already rejected it.

To successfully win them back requires holiness, living the “fully integrated Christian life” that is the central teaching of the Second Vatican Council. “When Christians live lives of selflessness and deep faith, we bear an undeniable witness to the power of God’s grace working in us,” the bishop explained, adding that such a lifestyle “necessarily means courageously choosing to live more counterculturally.”

Historically, Catholics have long sought to be mainstream Americans, sometimes by sacrificing a strong, vibrant faith for a weaker, more acceptable version. According to Bishop Powers, evangelization begins with an honest assessment: “Is my Christianity the core of my identity and the absolute priority in my life?”

“What are your biggest passions in life?” he asks. “I would wager that you are not shy about talking about them. Why then, when it comes to talking about the faith, do most of us get clammy and nervous?”

He identifies two reasons why many Catholics find it hard to evangelize. “The first is a need for deeper faith …. The second is we simply do not know how to go about it.”


Each Gospel concludes with Jesus’ disciples being sent out to continue his mission after the ascension. The “great commission,” in Matthew, 28:19, is often cited: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

Relationships are key to carrying out this commission, “our own relationship with God pouring out into our relationships with other people.” Evangelistic relationships should be pursued in two ways, he added: personally and programmatically. “They are mutually dependent and both are vital.”
Giving some examples of personal evangelization, the bishop urges Catholics to pray every day; invest in Christian friendship; invest in relationship in your spheres of influence; and when someone opens up to you, respond.

“If as a diocese we were to do just those four things, we would take a massive step toward becoming a church that evangelizes,” he wrote.

Programmatic evangelization is the role of the parish. Catholics inviting others into deeper relationship with Christ should know what their parish offers; the Mass may feel inhospitable to the uninitiated, so other parish programs – evangelization events, adoration, a retreat – as well as parish-supported ministries – Alcoholics Anonymous and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for those in need – may be a good starting point.

Catechesis only takes place after an individual has made a decision to follow Christ, the bishop continued. First comes pre-evangelization – building relationships – followed by intentional evangelization, and if the individual responds with an intention to embrace Christianity, discipleship and catechesis. The diocese is working with parishes to help them move toward this model of evangelization and discipleship.

Tendencies to avoid

If the universal calls to holiness and evangelization are Catholics’ mission, the bishop advised, “As a pastor, I see two main ways we often get this mission wrong.” The first is to respond to the end of Christendom with a “circle-the-wagons approach” that leads to isolation; the second is “being lured into an unhealthy worldliness.”

Christians often endure soft persecution in public schools, corporate America and in other spheres of public life whenever they dissent from secular ideology. Prudence dictates when to withdraw from particular elements of society; total withdrawal, however, is a failure to carry out the rescue mission to which we are called.

“Brothers and sisters, let it not be said of us that we sat idly by,” he wrote. “Looks at the alcohol and drug-related deaths, suicide rates, depression rates: they are all historically high. The people in our communities are isolated and hurting and are seeking to numb the pain with whatever they can find. Do we look upon those outside of the church with contempt or do we see them as beloved children of God in need of rescue – just like us?”

The temptation of worldliness, on the other hand, ties into Catholics’ desire to live in American society without tension, avoiding conflicts between Catholicism and secular ideologies. Coexisting with others in a multicultural society means we have been “conditioned to think that we should live out our faith privately and that it would be politically incorrect to evangelize,” he wrote, but the Second Vatican Council affirmed that while there is value to be found in other faiths through interreligious dialogue, “the mission of evangelization is still primary.”

Pursing two seemingly contradictory goals – becoming more countercultural while simultaneously being sent out into the world to evangelize – means that many will gravitate to one of these responsibilities, either investing more in their Catholic identity or more in relationships in the world.

Bishop Powers added, “We should ask ourselves: Is my ongoing formation in the faith animating a deeper desire to make the Lord known and loved in my spheres of influence? And conversely, is my engagement in the world motivated by a deepening desire to make the Lord known and loved?”

A new Pentecost

As the bishop nears the conclusion of his letter, he issues a reminder to readers that “the primary agent of this mission is not us, but the Holy Spirit.” A succession of popes have prayed for a new Pentecost but, as did the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, we must wait for the Holy Spirit to descend on us and send us out in mission.

Emphasizing the importance of humility, the bishop added, “Learning to draw close to the Lord and truly let him lead is of paramount importance. Intimacy with him is not the privileged gift of great saints; it is the ardent desire of the Father for everyone.”

“When we abide in this place of trust and dependence, there is no telling what the Lord will be able to do in and through us,” he continued. “We must constantly entrust ourselves to him. … The widely varying witness of the saints over the past 2,000 years reveals one common denominator: radical trust and total dependence upon the loving provision of God.”

Bishop Powers writes:

“I hope, dear brothers and sisters, as this letter concludes that this vision is clear. It is quite simply that our diocese becomes a diocese of apostles. Luke the first apostles, we need to rally close to each other in genuine Christian community. Like the first apostles, we need to be animated by the Holy Spirit. Like the first apostles, we need to depend utterly on the provision of God, especially in and through the holy Eucharist.”

Clarifying that he takes no credit for this vision – it is the vision of all recent popes and of the early Christians – Bishop Powers calls on readers not to rush into action, which experience has shown will not bear much fruit, but to say “yes,” like Mary, to “receiving the love of God in a fruitful way.”

“The coinciding of this initiative with the national Eucharistic Revival is a providential gift that grounds is in this posture of receptivity,” he affirmed. “For it is the great gift of the Blessed Sacrament that the Lord will sanctify, nourish and send us. May Mary and St. Augustine, our patron, and all of the saints and angels intercede for us. Amen.”

Additional resources related to the bishop’s pastoral letter, including a study guide and reflection questions, are online at