Father Arne Panula, an Opus Dei priest who directs the Catholic Information Center in Washington, presents the center’s first Blessed John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization to Cardinal Donald Wuerl during a June 1 dinner reception.
Father Arne Panula, an Opus Dei priest who directs the Catholic Information Center in Washington, presents the center’s first Blessed John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization to Cardinal Donald Wuerl during a June 1 dinner reception.
The archdiocese's Catholic Information Center - a longtime oasis of Catholicism in the heart of downtown Washington - presented its first annual Blessed John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization to Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

During a June 1 dinner reception, Cardinal Wuerl was honored for his efforts to promote the New Evangelization, which Opus Dei Father Arne Panula, the director of the Catholic Information Center, described as a "new moment in the life of the Church."

"It is part of our mission to further the New Evangelization in Washington and beyond to a world that needs it," said the priest, noting that Cardinal Wuerl has been at the forefront of the New Evangelization through his numerous books, media appearances, as well as the recent opening of the Blessed John Paul II Seminary in Washington.

In accepting the award, the cardinal not only reminisced about the life and legacy of Blessed John Paul II, for whom the honor is named, but also encouraged nearly 300 attendees at the Capital Hilton to defend their Catholic faith and religious liberty under siege at this moment in time.

"Let us never be afraid. Let us stand for what means so much to us - our freedom," Cardinal Wuerl said.

Looking back to 1978, when Blessed Pope John Paul II first appeared on the world's stage, the cardinal recalled how the late pontiff captured "the imaginations and hearts of people all over the world."

It was during the pope's inaugural papal Mass that he first told the world to, "Be not afraid...to open your hearts to Christ so wide that there would be no way of ever closing them again," said Cardinal Wuerl.

The cardinal went on to say how the Pope John Paul II recognized a "tsunami of secularism" taking over the culture, which led to his call for a New Evangelization during his pontificate.

"The solution was a renewal of each person's faith and a confidence in that truth that one would be prepared to share it with others," Cardinal Wuerl said.

He said the pope's funeral Mass in April 2005 was a vivid testimony to how, "We all knew we had lived in the presence of an extraordinary person," the cardinal said.

He also recalled Pope John Paul II's 1993 visit to Denver for World Youth Day when he told hundreds of thousands of young people to: "Be proud of your faith."

"Isn't that a message for all of us?" asked the cardinal.

Father William Byrne, the archdiocesan Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns, who served as the evening's master of ceremonies, also took the opportunity to praise and celebrate the work of the CIC. "The number one reason God loves the CIC is (because) it is the closest tabernacle to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," said the priest to loud applause from the audience.

Since 1957, the CIC, now located at 1501 K Street, N.W., has served downtown workers as resource of information, offering thousands of book titles on all aspects of the Catholic faith, as well as devotional items. More than 1,000 people each week walk through its doors for daily Mass, Confession, spiritual direction, lectures, discussion groups, book signings and other special events.

Also among the award dinner's featured guests were: R. James Nicholson, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; Msgr. Robert Panke, the rector of the Blessed John Paul II Seminary in Washington; columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez, and Irish tenor Mark Forrest, who sang the National Anthem.