The following comes from a July 26 story in the Tidings, Los Angeles archdiocesan paper.
Father Edward Benioff knows very well what happens to youth who stay away from the Church — since he was once one of those young people himself.
And, as director of the new archdiocesan Office of New Evangelization, the 42-year-old priest is confident he can help bring those who have avoided coming to church for whatever reason back to their spiritual roots, in large degree because he can relate to what many who have drifted away from church may have experienced.
His passion for teaching, inherited from his father who was a junior high school coach, combined with his own years of teaching at public and Catholic high schools, have imbued him with the necessary energy and passion to motivate and inspire others, especially younger youth.
Born in Texas to a Jewish father and to a mother with strong Catholic roots, young Edward was raised Catholic by “my own choice.”
But then he found church “was not that exciting,” and at some point in his early life he decided not to attend Mass, despite his mother’s requests.
Sports captured his attention in his teenage years, and then so did worldly pleasures and values — the entertainment world, parties, love of money and power.
“Prayer, religion or Church weren’t part of my interests,” he says. He did not even complete the Sacraments after baptism. “I was a C&E Catholic — Christmas and Easter,” he smiles.
And as he became a young adult and college student, it was difficult to identify himself as a Catholic. The “false gods” of money, power and pleasure had fully taken over the spiritual life he once knew as a child.
But an internal void started growing; the need of a deeper fulfillment increased. He was restless and he wanted peace.
“The seeds of the Gospel [planted in his childhood] were there,” he says, and ingrained in his heart and mind was the example of his mother and father of helping those in need.
He includes among his strengths a “zeal for God,” a “lot of energy” gained through his work with high school students in the classroom and in retreats, his enthusiasm for making things happen by bringing people together, and his joy of being a part of the Church.
He started searching for a “deeper meaning” to his life. “God was speaking to me, inviting me.”
He started reading the Bible following the example of his older brother, then he started watching and listening to Christian broadcasters who gradually nourished his hunger for a spiritual life. That led him back to Church and to support the Missionary Sisters of Charity at a soup kitchen where they fed the homeless.
“I was falling in love with Jesus,” he says.
At age 26, having earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education with emphasis in special education from Cal Poly Pomona, he entered St. John’s Seminary. He was inspired to a great extent by his then spiritual mentor, Msgr. Norm Priebe, former pastor of Holy Angels Church in Arcadia (which he chose as his home parish) and current pastor at St. Jerome Church in Westchester.
It was Msgr. Priebe who suggested he should ponder entering religious life. He went through the RCIA process, and completed first Communion and confirmation at 25. He also became active at his home parish as a lector, sacristan, eucharistic minister and as a member of the Legion of Mary.
“Now I was not only in love with Jesus,” he says, “but with the saints, the Church’s tradition, and with the community.”
Inside of him was a growing need to nourish others, he says. His discernment continued until he realized that becoming a priest was definitely his path in life.
Ordained in 2007, Father Benioff was assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in San Pedro, where then-pastor Msgr. Joseph Brennan (now Moderator of the Curia and Vicar General) became his mentor — and basketball buddy.
After four years as an associate pastor, he taught two years at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, where he learned to “love the kids and everyone there.”
In the meantime, he was paying close attention to Pope John Paul II’s call to the new evangelization. And when Archbishop José Gomez released his 2012 pastoral letter “Witness to the New World of Faith,” in which he announced the opening of an archdiocesan Office of New Evangelization, Father Benioff envisioned himself heading the office.
Having begun his new assignment July 1, he includes among his strengths a “zeal for God,” a “lot of energy” gained through his work with high school students in the classroom and in retreats, his enthusiasm for making things happen by bringing people together, his joy of being a part of the Church, and a “good witness.”
He would like, he adds, to follow in the footsteps of Father Robert Barron of Chicago — creator and host of “Catholicism,” the award-winning documentary series about the Catholic Faith, and founder of wordonfire.org — whom he describes as the “number one leader of new evangelization in the United States….”
To read the entire story, click here.