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Giving a Reason for Our Hope

Interview With Father Larry Richards

ERIE, Pennsylvania, NOV. 11, 2006 (Zenit) - Are you ready to give a reason for your hope?

Father Larry Richards began A Reason for Our Hope Foundation to help Catholics to do just that, and offer them the resources to spread their faith to others.

Ordained a priest in 1989, Father Richards is a diocesan priest at St. Joseph's Parish in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Speaking from his experience as a pastor of an inner city parish, a high school chaplain, a counselor and evangelist, the priest also hosts "Changed Forever with Father Larry Richards" on Relevant Radio, a Wisconsin-based talk radio network.

In this interview with us, Father Richards explains why he launched the new foundation, and how he hopes this initiative will help to spread the Gospel message through various multimedia resources.

Q: What is the aim of A Reason for Our Hope Foundation?

Father Richards: The aim of the foundation is to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ -- who is the reason for our hope.

We are based on 1 Peter 13:15: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." We exist to evangelize the world and bring them the hope that is Jesus Christ.

Q: What is the core of the message that you try to get across to people?

Father Richards: That there is hope in Jesus Christ. This means that even though the world may be in darkness and fear so often with the constant threats of terrorism and war, there is always hope in Jesus.

No matter how dark a room is, if you just light one little candle the darkness never can overcome the light -- the light overcomes the darkness. Jesus is the light and the foundation is here to hold him up to the world.

Q: What are some of your more successful techniques to drive the message home?

Father Richards: Humor. I have often said that my style of preaching is to "make a person laugh, and then punch them in the stomach."

As the old song goes: "A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down." When we are giving people the truth that can sometimes be hard, humor allows the person to embrace it easier.

Also, I make it practical. Too often people make the truth of Christ other-worldly instead of something that everyone can live every day. For instance I don't just tell people to love others, I tell them how to love others.

Q: Why the foundation? How did it come about?

Father Richards: I was involved with The Mary Foundation for a number of years and I saw what an impact recorded media could have on people lives. I wanted to expand this idea.

One way in which we are expanding it is by making resources widely available to those who are already working to spread the faith. We don't exist just to make Father Larry's CDs available, we are in the process of launching new dynamic speakers, and developing workshops that would help priests and deacons with their weekly homilies.

On our Web site, tools are available for everyone who is interested in bringing others to Christ. I have found that the "Truth Talk," which is available for free, is a great instrument of helping people come to know Jesus.

Additionally, we are a community of support to those who are trying to live the Gospel. This is where the Web site comes in.

The site is a vehicle to support people in living their faith. There is a prayer page so that we can pray for each other. We take this very seriously. We pray for these intentions every day in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

We want people to come back to the Web site each day to know that they are not alone, that we are all members of Christ's body and together we can change the world and bring the world hope.

Q: In your preaching, what are the toughest questions that you get from young people? What are their biggest challenges?

Father Richards: Once I was giving a retreat in a high school and one of the boys raised his hand and said: "Christianity is all irrelevant to us."

I think that the biggest challenge is to make faith relevant. Young people are looking for Jesus and his Church to speak to their daily lives.

Too often we just preach to the choir. I believe that God calls us first to preach to those who are searching. Young people ask me: "What does this have to do with my life?" I respond: "Everything."

But that's not all, I tell them the truth: That Jesus is the only one that will answer their deepest questions with meaning, and that Jesus is the only one that can give them true peace today and forever.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say that people starving in India sometimes were so hungry that they would pick up dog dung and eat it.

The same happens in our society, but it's the truth that people are looking for, and they will fill that void with all sorts of "dung" that masquerades as truth.

Q: How does your foundation respond to the missionary mandate of the Church?

Father Richards: In 1990 I was at the worldwide retreat for priests in Rome, and our then Holy Father, John Paul the Great, had just begun the decade of evangelization.

After hearing the Holy Father, and the various other speakers, I was convinced that this is exactly what Jesus calls us all to do -- to bring everyone we know into knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Q: What can Catholics do on a day-to-day basis to participate in the missionary action of the Church?

Father Richards: First I think that everyone needs to know that it is God's will for everyone to evangelize. After one accepts this responsibility given to them by Christ, then these are the steps that I give them:

First: Pray. We need to make a list of people in our lives that do not know the love of Christ. Then we need to pray for them each day. When we pray for someone, then we focus the grace of God on that person.

Just like when you take a magnifying glass and direct the sun's rays on a piece of paper you can set the paper on fire, so when one prays for someone, they become a human magnifying glass, and focus the grace of God on that person and set them on fire with the Holy Spirit.

This is the first and most important step because it is ultimately God who brings others to him and not us.

Second: Love. The next thing that we need to do is love the people that God brings into our lives. This means that we become Jesus Christ to them. We need to let Jesus live so fully in our lives that they see Jesus and not us.

So often we try to bring people the truth without love, but as St. Paul says "Speak the truth with love."

As our Holy Father Benedict XVI reminded us in his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," our main call is to love. If we love people, then they will listen to us because they then know that we have their best interest at heart, and that we are not just trying to get another convert.

Third: Tell. Only after we have prayed for a person and loved that person, should we then share with them the good news of the Gospel.

Ask God when would be the best time to share his love with the person. If they feel that they cannot do it themselves, then I encourage them to buy them a book that will do that, or give them a copy of my talk "The Truth," and that can be the instrument that God uses.

Q: You also host a program on Relevant Radio called "Changed Forever." What has it been like working with this new Catholic station?

Father Richards: The radio station really tries to be relevant to people's daily lives by seeking to engage people with the living truth.

It does this through the live call-in talk format. This shows that the truth needs to be engaged with, and not just held onto like a trophy.

Also, at Relevant Radio everyone knows that we are doing God's work and not ours. It is not about becoming the No. 1 radio station in the world, it is about bringing the world to Jesus Christ.

Q: Had you worked in radio before? What is your background in this media?

Father Richards: I had never worked in radio before. After hearing some of my tapes, Relevant Radio approached me and asked if they could use them and make a radio program out of them.

After about a year they asked me if I would be interested in doing a live show, but it is just impossible with all the stuff I am already doing. My main focus is being a pastor of an inner city parish, and everything else flows from this.


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