In 2002, I attended World Youth Day in Rome, and in the middle of that soggy night, my friend woke me, grabbed my hand and said “get up, we’re going to dance!” I followed her toward a circle of people, dancing energetically and clapping and singing. I said “I don’t know how!” and my friend said “let’s just watch and we’ll figure it out.”
We stood near the circle for a while in awe of their joyful movement and song, watching them step, hop, turn and clap their hands. Soon enough we were mimicking their steps from outside the circle, trying to get them right before taking the leap to join in. I didn’t know what the words of the song meant, but I knew these were fellow Catholics, that they were here in the same spirit that I was, and I felt a kinship with these dancers. Even though our language was different, we were all in the same league. I felt unexpectedly comfortable there, despite being from another background.
It wasn’t long before we couldn’t help but be drawn in and suddenly we were dancing along. Strangers among strangers, we danced as best we could. No one was pointing out my missteps because everyone was dancing! I saw people tire, step away to rest, and then jump back in- the circle expanding to make space for new and returning dancers. After a few times around the circle, my friend and I caught on and were like part of the troupe- we were the insiders now, knowing the steps and welcoming new people in. We could not erase the smiles from our faces.
My time in that circle is a treasured memory. And through this memory, I also find inspiration about how our evangelizing Church often works. I imagine the dancing circle as our Church. It expands to make room for new dancers. We teach what we know just by doing what we do, esp. when we do it with enthusiasm. As a Church, we can be understanding of people who step out for a rest, always welcoming them back into the dance.
I can visualize the parishes where I work as like this dancing circle, drawing and welcoming in dancers by the strength of our joy. This, to me, is evangelization: inviting everyone to come and join our dance.