ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) -- Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl urged participants at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of The Gospel in America" to take a look at each other in the hotel ballroom and realize that they, as lay leaders in the church, are responsible for spreading the Gospel message and they shouldn't waste the moment.
"This is not something new that we haven't heard before," he told the delegates in Orlando in a July 2 keynote address.
The cardinal stressed the sense of urgency of evangelizing and inviting others to Christ, stressing that Catholics have a perfect role model for this in Pope Francis, who has continually presented the church as inviting and open.
Cardinal Wuerl also acknowledged that Catholics are not always comfortable with the idea of evangelizing but they need to be willing to step out of themselves and talk with people about their faith as part of an encounter often spoken of by Pope Francis. An encounter is not meant to tell people "they can be as wonderful as we are," the cardinal said. It is about telling them about Christ.
He also noted that as people take this Gospel message out to the peripheries that doesn't just mean economic peripheries either but spiritual ones as well.
People need to be asked about their faith and encouraged in it, he added. He spoke about an experience he had on a plane where a woman sitting beside him asked him if he was "born again."
When he said he was at his baptism, his seatmate said: "You Catholics are big into this church thing, aren't you?" She then asked him to tell her more and joking, he told the crowd: "You asked for it!"
His point was that many people have questions or even misconceptions about faith and need to be part of a conversation about it.
Stressing that church members today, as always, are called to be evangelizing disciples, the cardinal said this role requires courage, a sense of urgency, compassion and joy.
A panel of church leaders who spoke just before the cardinal, similarly stressed the need to evangelize in simple ways of sitting and eating together, sharing conversion stories, and also reaching out to parishioners and urging them to be more involved.
The cardinal and many of the panelists also emphasized that reaching out to others requires a reconnection of one's personal faith. Or as Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said: "If you want to go out in world, start by going in."