Bishop Caggiano: Missionary discipleship means being vehicle of God’s love

Widely known for his work with youth, Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, will give the keynote address at this year’s Diocesan Ministry Day, Sept. 25, at River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud.

This is an opportunity to learn more about topics related to ministry in the church. Bishop Caggiano will share a message around the day’s theme, “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.”

“I always enjoy traveling to meet different people, to share ministry,” he said. “I learn as much as I hopefully can share with others. The church is so diverse and ministry is lived in so many different ways throughout the country. I am excited to be coming to Minnesota.”

Bishop Frank Caggiano

Bishop Caggiano has served as the bishop of Bridgeport since 2013. He was born in Brooklyn in 1959 to Arnaldo and Gennarina Caggiano, both of whom came to the United States a year earlier from the town of Caggiano in the province of Salerno, Italy.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1987 and served as an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Brooklyn from 2006 to 2013.

In 2013, Bishop Caggiano was appointed to a three-year term as episcopal advisor of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. He presently serves on several committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis (chair of the Subcommittee on Catechism); Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (consultant); and Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

In an interview with The Visitor, Bishop Caggiano talked about how his own ministry has taken shape and what participants can expect to hear at Diocesan Ministry Day. The interview has been edited for length.

Q: What message do you plan to share with the people of the St. Cloud Diocese when you address them at Diocesan Ministry Day?

A: My hope is to speak about the nature of mission. When Pope Francis asks us to be missionary disciples, what exactly is he asking us to do?

Pope Francis is telling us in a very concrete way [that] we evangelize … by being missionary disciples. So I want to talk about: What does it mean to have mission? What does it mean to go out to people in need? How do you do that effectively and then tie that with the idea that we go out with a particular purpose — to teach [and] preach the Gospel?

What that really means is to become a vehicle of God’s love in the world, to make God’s presence real. You do that when you stand shoulder to shoulder with people in a time of crisis, in a time of suffering, in a time of questioning, in a time of anxiety, even in the joyful times of life to help people remember the source of their gratitude and their blessings.

Q: What does it mean to be a missionary disciple?

A: What we do not want to do is fall into the trap of believing that being a missionary disciple is to go out and do something for someone else. It’s rather to be someone for someone else.
Missionary discipleship always starts with a personal relationship with the Lord and allowing God’s grace to transform us, to become the vehicles of God’s holiness in the world. Then we do things based on who we are.

For example, we might do the same thing as a Red Cross volunteer, but we might have a very different reason for why we do it. What we are really talking about is that we are there because we stand in solidarity with people in the name of Jesus. Who we are is more important than what we do.

Q: You are well known for your work with youth. What led you down this ministerial path?

A. Providence. Grace. The opening step in this journey was when Bishop [Nicholas] DiMarzio [Bishop of Brooklyn, New York] encouraged me to go to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, [in 2008] to be a catechist. That changed me tremendously. As a young priest, I was involved in working with young people, as are a lot of leadership in the church. But that experience actually put me on the path of becoming much more intentional in working with young people.

Q: How does the church foster missionary discipleship with youth?

A: This is a complicated question. One way we do not do it is believing that “one size fits all.” That is no longer the case.

Pope Francis speaks about “accompaniment.” I think missionary discipleship with youth is all about accompanying young people. First to challenge them to take all those characteristics I spoke about and then channeling that into sitting with the Lord long enough so that he can become their savior, their best friend, their rock. The Lord is always knocking on the door, so we have to create ways for that to happen. But then, it’s like a … menu — there are many different options. For some young people, it’s going to be service, for some it’s going to be prayer, for some it’s going to be music or art. There are many different roads that young people walk now, and the church needs to accompany down those roads.

Missionary discipleship looks very different when you look at young people and that’s part of the excitement. If we are only interested in maintaining programs and counting the number of participants, that may be a measure of success. But accompaniment is a more important barometer of success, which changes the dynamic of ministry. What’s the measure of success: How many come to your pizza party? Or how many people have you or I engaged to walk with young people toward this lifetime conversion? To answer your question, you foster it one person at a time.

Q: Could you give an example of one thing the people in the St. Cloud Diocese might do to encourage missionary discipleship?

A: I have a bias so I’m not exactly sure if this fits in the Diocese of St. Cloud. My bias is that opportunities for service are a fertile place because young people, generally speaking, even if they are detached from religion, are still searching spiritually for a relationship with God and still generally have an open, positive attitude and want to make a difference in people’s lives concretely.

I think service can be a place where young people can be invited to do the works of the Gospel, even before they fully understand what the Gospel is. And as they’re doing it, we can help them to understand the “why.”

•••

Diocesan Ministry Day

• When: Sept. 25
• Where: River’s Edge Convention Center, St. Cloud
• What: In addition to a keynote address by Bishop Frank Caggiano and workshops in numerous areas of ministry, the day also will include Mass with Bishop Donald Kettler, exhibitors and opportunities for fellowship.
• For more information: Visit http://dmd-vencuentro.stcdio.org.

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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