Chris Hurtubise, here speaking during a diocesan youth event, has been named the director of a new diocesan office dedicated to taking the diocese from “maintenance to mission.” For Bishop James P. Powers’ letter on the initiative, see page 2. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Bishop James P. Powers heralded both the ancient and the new in his March 1 letter announcing the establishment of the new diocesan Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship.

The office’s new director, Christopher Hurtubise, had been serving as assistant director of the Office of Catholic Formation under director Peggy Schoenfuss. Hurtubise has been echoing the bishop’s call for increased emphasis on evangelization for some time.

At a professional development day for parish leaders on Oct. 6, Hurtubise presented on the topic of evangelization as one of the four focus areas Bishop Powers had been honing in on. The other three include Catholic identity, Eucharist and servant leadership.

During that talk, given at St. Joseph in Hayward, Hurtubise quoted Pope Paul VI’s opening lines in his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi’: “There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity.”

Pope Paul VI spoke of the significant duty he had received to confirm the brethren as the successor of Peter, as Peter had received it from Jesus himself.

This program of life and action, he said, seems “all the more noble and necessary when it is a matter of encouraging our brethren in their mission as evangelizers, in order that, in this time of uncertainty and confusion, they may accomplish this task with ever increasing love, zeal and joy.”

Those words speak powerfully to the faithful in 2021 after an entire year of living with the coronavirus pandemic and a tumultuous election cycle. Yet they were written in 1975, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Powers’ March 1 letter also acknowledges the present challenges, stating, “We can either simply lament the past, or we can work to turn these challenges into opportunities.”

The bishop notes the “maintenance to mission” theme that has remained a prominent message behind the scenes as diocesan leadership addresses local needs during the pandemic.

In an interview with the Catholic Herald, Hurtubise pointed out the Office of Catholic Formation has been teaching the concepts of evangelization and discipleship to religious education and youth ministry leaders for the last five years. They have not been taught as concepts specific to religious education or youth ministry; rather, they are fundamental to who Christians are.

Acknowledging COVID-19 has propelled deeper discussions between Bishop Powers and diocesan leadership over the last year, Hurtubise said they have had to ask themselves yet again, “What are we all about? What is our vision for carrying out the mission of the church?”

“It just became more and more clear to all of us,” Hurtubise shared, “that the ideas of evangelization and missionary discipleship needed to come to the forefront.”

Humbled to be asked to lead the new office, Hurtubise said he trusts in God’s ability to “use anyone to carry out his mission, if they’re willing to trust in him and his provision.”

Defining titles and terms 

Answering the question “Why the big long title?” for the new office, Hurtubise said, “The short answer is that all of the words matter.”

“What we want to help bring about is renewal in the diocese’s mission, which is given us directly by Christ,” he added, quoting Jesus’ great commission in the Gospel of Matthew 28:19-20.

In an attempt to offer a working definition, Hurtubise confirmed the words “evangelization,” “mission” and “discipleship” have been used of late and often interchanged.

He clarified, “Evangelization is the proclamation of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.”

His favorite illustration of the concept has been cited by author and theologian Bishop Robert Barron for years – “Evangelization is one beggar excitedly telling the other beggars where he found some bread.”

“The reason I love that,” he went on, “is that it acknowledges that, I, Chris Hurtubise, have a profound need for a savior … but that in Jesus Christ and in the fullness of the Catholic Church, I have found the answer to the deepest longings of my heart.”

During Hurtubise’s October presentation, he affirmed the thought of evangelization “terrifies most of us as Catholics for a number of reasons.”

He expressed what many wonder: “Isn’t evangelization rude?”

Living in a culture where tolerance is valued above offering advice on how to live, sharing personal beliefs and qualifying one religion as more true than another’s, Hurtubise affirmed for the parish leaders he was addressing, “There is no greater privilege for a Christian than to share the Gospel … and that is what we’re being called to do.”

He expounded, “That’s why I love the beggar definition of evangelization so much. We aren’t called to evangelize because of our superiority – we are not superior to anyone. I know lots of non-Christians who are more patient, more generous and harder working than I am.

“We are called to evangelize because we have received the greatest gift in the history of the world: Salvation in Jesus and his gift of divine life in the sacraments.

“If we aren’t so overcome with joy and gratitude at that gift that we want to share it with everyone we meet, than that should be a red flag as to the degree to which we’ve received that gift,” he challenged.

Hurtubise explained missionary discipleship as “the process by which we walk with someone and mentor them in allowing God to fully transform them.”

Declaring that “God wants to make saints out of all of us through a process of complete transformation that we call conversion,” Hurtubise claimed that discipleship is the method Jesus himself employed. It takes place through authentic Christian community, through prayer, through the renewal of the mind in the study of Scripture and the teachings of the church, and – most profoundly – through the grace of the sacraments.

“We don’t expect anyone to become a master of anything else, be it a sport, a craft, a profession, etc, without being intentionally mentored, and yet within Christianity we adopt an ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ approach and assume everyone is fine following Jesus on their own. They’re not! We’re not! I’m not! I need help!” he said.

That help can take forms such as spiritual direction, intentional Christian friendship, or discipleship groups, Hurtubise said, and noted that he personally benefits from all three on a regular basis.

The addition of the qualifier “missionary” to discipleship comes from Pope Francis, the new office’s director said.

“In (Pope Francis’) teaching, disciples don’t exist for their own sake. They are called and formed, always with an eye to being sent to go and make more disciples.”

Ancient roots and present-day fruits

Hurtubise said as he and Schoenfuss have been preaching and teaching these concepts, they often get questions whether or not these terms are just the latest fad.

He thinks people are right to be skeptical of trendy jargon. “The last thing we want to do is throw out something that will be dated in five or 10 years.”

He then observed, “The language of evangelization and discipleship is not a fad. The fad has been trying to live out Christianity without them, and I think we’ve seen that it is not very effective.

“Both words are foundational to the church’s self-understanding dating back to the Lord himself and the apostolic era of the early church.”

Hurtubise pointed out the language has been “re-employed in a beautiful set of church teaching,” starting with Pope St. Paul VI in 1975, continuing with Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict the XVI and Pope Francis.

“These Holy Fathers have all acknowledged that the era of Christendom has come to an end in the West,” he continued, “And that we are in a new apostolic age in which the church needs to rededicate herself to a new evangelization.”

Following up on the bishop’s stated goal for the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship – “infusing all of our efforts with the Christ-given mission of making ‘disciples of all nations’” – Hurtubise stated he would be undertaking events and programming to impart this vision and provide resources and accompaniment to carry it out at different levels of diocesan life.

“More on that later this spring, but for now I can say: I’ll continue to work closely with Peggy Schoenfuss in mentoring our catechetical leaders in these areas,” he added.

Hurtubise will continue to run discipleship groups and the marquis events in Catholic Formation office. He will also continue running the youth and young adult events that have been built up, such as Extreme Faith Camp, Discipleship Weekends, March for Life, Totus Tuus, etc.

The only difference is those programs will now all fall under the new office’s umbrella.

When Hurtubise spoke on evangelization in October, he quoted St. Pope John Paul II numerous times.

From the late Holy Father’s “Catechesi Tredendae,” paragraph 5, he shared, “’The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.’”

From Pope Francis’ first exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” paragraph 264, Hurtubise added, “’The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him.

“’What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?

“’If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence.’”

Hurtubise’s own conclusion, acknowledging once again the humbling honor of Bishop Powers’ trust in him to lead this new endeavor, is “healthy evangelization and discipleship always starts in the mirror.”

He affirmed his confidence in his mission.

“First, I know that by his grace renewal is possible, and I have been blessed to see it and experience it in many places.

“Second, I am immensely blessed to have already spent the past five years getting to know countless people around the diocese who are already more knowledgeable and more invested in this than I am.”

With that, he said, “it is such a joy to embark on this new adventure.”