Fr. John Riccardo's ministry offers eight-week crash course hoping to light a fire under Catholics to claim the world for Jesus
TROY — Fr. John Riccardo and his team at ACTS XXIX are on a mission: a mission to tell the Church about its mission.
It’s a mission the Church knows — or at least thinks it knows — but Fr. Riccardo and his team have been traversing the country for the past four years, offering retreat-style experiences to parishes, dioceses and apostolates to drive that mission home in a compelling, faith-provoking way.
Last fall, the apostolate launched a transformative, eight-week video retreat series to help everyday Catholics re-discover the crux of that mission: Jesus' rescue of mankind, and to wrestle with the fundamental questions of faith.
Its name? The Rescue Project.
“Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is everything so messed up? What, if anything, has God done about it? And how do I respond?” Fr. Riccardo asked a crowd of about 400 people at St. Thomas More Parish in Troy during the final session of The Rescue Project retreat March 22 for the South Oakland 3 Family of Parishes. “Part of the challenge of being Catholic is we tend to overdo it (in answering these questions). We go, ‘Here, read these 10,000 books about everything it means to be Catholic.'”
In reality, the Gospel message is simple, Fr. Riccardo said: Jesus, out of love, died to rescue man from his sins, and calls him to a life of friendship with God. Fr. Riccardo said The Rescue Project has three goals: Overwhelm somebody with the message of the Gospel, move them to surrender, and mobilize them for the mission.
The Rescue Project has so far been brought to priests, bishops and laity in more than 20 dioceses, along with college campuses and churches all over the world.
On March 22, the team was finishing a mission in its home Archdiocese of Detroit for the family of parishes that includes St. Thomas More, St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Sacred Heart in Auburn Hills and St. Damien of Molokai in Pontiac.
“The overarching goal is to bring transformation to the Church,” Mary Guilfoyle, an ACTS XXIX missionary and part of The Rescue Project team, told Detroit Catholic. “What people are getting week to week is just pieces of the Gospel. What we need to see is the Gospel comprehensively. The challenge is, the lectionary, while rich and beautiful, presupposes we know our Scripture, but most Catholics don’t. So, what we are offering here in eight weeks is a look at the Gospel in its entirety."
The Rescue Project is an eight-week, nine-talk course breaking down the four questions Fr. Riccardo posed at the beginning of his talk.
It's only by recognizing Jesus' true identity — as the king of the universe — that Catholics are able to wrestle with these four critical questions and engage the world as evangelizers, Fr. Riccardo said.
“We want to engage with absolute confidence in the lordship of Jesus,” Fr. Riccardo said. “It highlights a very muscular Christianity. Jesus is not just kind — he is kind, blessed is he — but he is Lord. He is utterly unconquerable. And he is not anxious right now as he looks at the Church, the world, or the country. So, we want to engage this world we are in with absolute confidence in Jesus, who is utterly unconquerable.”
The eight sessions leading up to Fr. Riccardo’s final sermon — all of which are available for free — focus on learning who is the true enemy is — Satan — and how people can win over the world from Satan to Christ.
“Jesus sends you and me out into the world in order to what?” Fr. Riccardo asks. “Do you have an immediate answer to that question? What was Jesus doing on Easter? He wasn’t showing off. He is beginning the re-creation of this world, which he loves. That is crucial to understand.”
Most of The Rescue Project’s retreats are done at a diocesan level with priests, explained Albert Faraj, another ACTS XXIX missionary, but the videos are available for anyone to watch. The Rescue Project's website features reviews from dioceses and colleges the team has visited, in which participants share how the lectures and table discussions have revitalized their zeal for the mission.
“The Rescue Project doesn’t change how you think about evangelization, it changes how you think about everything,” Faraj said. “It informs your worldview and the Gospel’s place in that worldview. It changes not only why I should go out and evangelize, but how you look at yourself in the world.”
The ACTS XXIX team doesn't usually do parish retreats like the one at St. Thomas More, but Faraj said the team was happy to give back in its home diocese.
The four Oakland County parishes — which took turns hosting The Rescue Project's eight sessions — used the sessions as a chance to get to know one another as a family of parishes and rediscover their identities as disciples of Christ, said John Hannigan, a St. Thomas More parishioner.
“We rotated the session among all the parishes, and each parish had an opportunity to host,” Hannigan told Detroit Catholic. “The meal we had at every session was important as well; Jesus met with his disciples over a meal. But the lessons speak for themselves. The way Fr. Riccardo unpacks the Gospel message, it was fulfilling to hear about our mission from the Holy Spirit.”
Hannigan added the retreat has given many people in the newly created family of parishes a sense of mission in spreading the Gospel.
Fr. Riccardo closed his talk at St. Thomas More by clarifying exactly what kind of mission followers of Christ are given: a mission of sabotage.
“That is the mission, to go blow things up,” Fr. Riccardo said. “The weapons we have are love, truth, dignity, integrity, character and mercy. Those are the weapons, but sabotage is the mission. Every face the enemy has distorted, defaced and marred, you and I are sent out to bend back, to straighten, to make right.
"Even if I’m alone, even if I’m opposed, even if, heaven forbid, they try to cancel me," Fr. Riccardo said. "As long as I’m doing it with Christ’s heart, confident in his lordship, I have nothing to be afraid of.”
The Rescue Project
To learn more about The Rescue Project, an eight-week retreat experience offered by ACTS XXIX, visit rescueproject.us.
The ACTS XXIX team also offers two podcasts: "You Were Born for This" with Fr. Riccardo, and "The Mission Guys" with Nick Jorgensen and Rick Popp.