These words express the core ideas which are the driving force of the activity of the Augustine Institute of the United States, which spreads the good news of Jesus in today’s world. Catholic Digital Missionaries spoke to Luis Soto, one of its leaders.
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,” Jesus says in the Gospel of St. Mark. People who work at the Augustine Institute in the United States responded to this call of the Son of Man. But according to current times and the tools available today, they do so without the need to spend all their time traveling around the world on board an airplane. They proclaim the good news through the Internet, using digital and audiovisual media. For example, they’ve undertaken the evangelizing task through the ‘Formed’ page, which is known as the Catholic Netflix and will soon have its version a hundred percent in Spanish. About Formed and other matters, we chatted with Luis Soto, one of the present-day apostles who throw their technological nets into the ‘cybernetics sea’, so that, like Peter or John, they can become fishermen of men.
– To begin this talk I’d like to ask you to tell us who you are, what you do.
– I am Luis Soto, originally from northwestern Mexico, with many years of service in the United States. I worked for nearly fifteen years in the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado, in contact with the Hispanic community, being the founder and director of a center for Hispanics. In recent years I have been working as a director at the Augustine Institute, in the area of Hispanic content, my task being the creation of content in Spanish for the institute and for all the platforms of instruction that we have.
– Secondly, I am interested to know how you discovered God, who Jesus is to you, and what faith is to you.
– I always say that my history of faith is too boring, since I have been Catholic all my life, involved in Church work from a very young age. By the age of 13, I was coordinating a group with other teenagers. Since then, I have been involved in the life of the Church in some way or other. At some point, in the middle of my college career I had a special encounter of conversion, like all of us; but my life has been a life committed to the Church in various fields. In the year 2000 I came to work in the United States.
– What is the Augustine Institute?
– The Augustine Institute was founded in 2005 as a school for a master’s degree in Theology. We have more than 500 students studying for a master’s degree in Theology or for one in Leadership for the New Evangelization. We are an initiative of lay Catholics, a non-profit organization run by lay people, with the approval of the Catholic Church, of course. And we are devoted to creating resources that help Catholics know their faith, understand it, share their faith. That is our mission: to help people understand, live and share their Catholic faith. With these three verbs we articulate our learning: understanding, living, and sharing. All three are essential for anyone who wants to be a good Catholic. A Catholic must understand his faith, he has to live it, and to live it he has to share it. And each of those conditions the other. You can’t live what you don’t understand, you can’t share what you don’t live. For us, those are the three essential things. In the last seven years, particularly, the last four, we have been releasing new content for evangelization: books, series, videos, audios, and even the creation of a digital platform called Formed, which is a kind of Netflix, but of purely Catholic content.
– How many people are involved and how much effort has it taken to implement the Institute’s project?
– Around 200 people work at the Institute. And yes, it’s been very difficult to make the project real. But it has been the result of hard and committed work of many people, committed to their faith, to carry out effective evangelization through means available nowadays and in the most effective way possible. And it’s thanks to that hard, committed work that we exist and continue to grow.
– On the Institute’s website this is mentioned, and I’d like to ask you about it: what is a Catholic culture and how is it built?
– We believe that a Catholic culture is a way of living, with the principles, the values that we Catholics have and consider important. If they become individual, social behaviors, they can generate a culture. The Catholic Church has a culture of its own, with certain practices, virtues that are affirmed and promoted at the individual and community level. It is built by making other disciples of Jesus Christ.
– What is the new evangelization?
– I always say that evangelization is not new. Evangelization is as old as the Gospel itself because the call we all have received is to be evangelizers. It is the call, the mandate given to us by Jesus Christ: to go out to evangelize by making disciples and to keep what He has taught us. In recent years, however, the Popes have emphasized the fact that the Christian message which remains true must be presented to men and women today, in an up-to-date way. It was St. John Paul II who invited us to look to the future with a new evangelization which is new in its methods, in its expression. We therefore believe that the new evangelization is done by being faithful to the truth of the Church but presenting it in a language style adapted to the current way of understanding the world around us.
-How is a leader of the new evangelization prepared and what does he do?
– A leader for the new evangelization is first prepared by making him a disciple of Jesus Christ. The call to discipleship remains current and contemporary, it is still the path for any evangelization effort: being, first of all, followers of Jesus Christ, faithful and committed to Him, in the strict sense of the word; with all that being missionaries involves, being Jesus Christ’s missionary disciples. And we achieve this by understanding our faith, living our faith and sharing our faith. To do this we have to know Jesus Christ, to love Him in order to follow Him.
– How does the institute’s proposal fit into the idea of a missionary church, a church which ‘goes forth’, that is like a field hospital, promoted by Pope Francis?
– In recent years, we have focused a lot on seeing how our project, our work fits Pope Francis’ request to be a Church which ‘goes forth’. The idea of the ‘Formed’ platform, which we launched in 2015, is precisely to promote a Church that may reach everyone. We believe that to evangelize we must return to the 50s, but not from the 1950’s, but to the 50s AD, when Christians used all the means of communication at their disposal to promote, to disseminate the good news of Jesus Christ. We believe that a Church which ‘goes forth’ is a Church that precisely uses all the existing ways, all the existing methods, to proclaim the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
– Tell us about the ‘Signs of Grace’ program.
– Signs of Grace is a program of sacramental preparation for First Communion and for the first Reconciliation for children, with the distinctive characteristic of involving parents in the process of formation. In parishes in the United States, and probably this no different than what happens in the rest of Latin America, the biggest problem we face in children’s catechesis, in the transmission of faith, is that parents are not involved in the development of that faith. They just bring the children for others to prepare. Signs of Grace educates and forms the child in a kerygmatic way, that is, focusing on the fundamental truths for both the First Communion and the first Reconciliation.
-What is the course on Saint Mark?
-In the Institute we have a series of biblical studies that involve the Holy Scriptures, the Doctrine of the Church and the Sacred Art. These studies are intended to take us to real depth on the understanding of the truth revealed in Sacred Scripture and reinforced in the tradition and doctrine of the Church which is expressed through art. We decided to make one about St. Mark because we wanted to start Bible Study with the smallest or shortest of the gospels. Despite being brief, it is a gospel with a lot of action, very up to date. It is a gospel in which Jesus does not tell parables but takes actions. It is a gospel that shows Jesus on the way out, because Jesus Christ in the Gospel of St. Mark is always on the road, doing something, one after another. It is a very dynamic gospel which introduces us to a Jesus really carrying out the Will of the Father. Finally it is a gospel that, as we say in the title, faces fear based on faith. And at this particular time this was something we wanted to highlight: faith conquers fear.
-What image of Jesus does each one of the evangelists give us?
– Certainly each one of the evangelists is different and writes according to different circumstances as well: the author, the community to which he is writing about, and their perspective is based on that. In St Mark you have the most primitive of the evangelical texts, but in St Mathew you find a more elaborate version. In St Lucas you find the Greek perspective. St Mark is written in Rome for the Romans, Matthew is written in Jerusalem for the Christians living there. In Luke you find a bit of a Greek version of the Gospel and in St. John you already find the theological version, so as to say,the most elevated Christian message.
-Tell us about Formed.org, which they call the Catholic Netflix.
-Formed is a collaboration of various Catholic apostolates. The Institute, as I explained earlier, began as a Master’s School and as we began distance teaching and record classes and presentations, at one point the United States Bishops’ conference asked us to do a program for the initiation program “Christian for adults”, to present the Christian faith in a systematic and attractive way. So we produced a series called Symbolon. That is a series of twenty chapters which, basically tell the whole creed and explain the Catholic faith having in mind those entering the faith in their adulthood. It was very successful. Then we created a series for young people. At that moment we came up with everything together, and a platform was created with those productions. Thus, Formed was born, which is also known as the Catholic Netflix because it is basically a platform with four content categories. One where you find series and study programs about faith: systematic series, structured with books, study guides that you can carry out in groups or personally. Then you have the movies category or documentaries, with hundreds of titles. There is a third category of audios, and a fourth of books, also with a lot of material to download. The application is available to download in all formats and there is content in Spanish. By the way, we are about to launch the platform entirely in Spanish.
-When going through the page of the Augustine Insitute there is a phrase that caught my attention: “We are at the moment of your life of faith in which you are. I ask you to develop this idea.
-What we mean is that we have material, content and resources to accompany you throughout your journey, your own journey, your path of faith at any point or moment in which you are. You might be someone who is simply asking basic questions and wants to find simple and universal answers about faith. Or a person who is already really involved in the path of faith and wants to try a deeper Bible study. We have content for all moments of life you are in faith. For the someone who is starting and for the one who has been walking for a long time.
-Finally, how can the person who does not live in the United States access the training or help offered by the Augustine Institute?
-Simple, you have to go to their web page, create an account so you can access all the content.
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