The Word Among Us

Jan/Feb 2016 Issue

A Tale of Two Stories

How The Word Among Us Came About

By: Joe Difato

A Tale of Two Stories: How The Word Among Us Came About by Joe Difato

As we look back on our thirty-five years publishing The Word AmongUs, I want to tell two stories—one global and the other personal. First, the global story.

A New Pentecost. In 1959, the newly elected Pope John XXIII announced his intention to convene the Second Vatican Council. He told everyone that his inspiration for the council came as a revelation from the Holy Spirit. In prayer, he sensed that the Spirit wanted to bring a fresh wind of renewal upon the Church and the world.

Over the fifty years since the council ended, the winds of renewal have clearly been blowing. Parishes have seen a dramatic increase in prayer groups, in Bible studies, in lay ministries, and in social and evangelistic outreaches. Spiritual movements like Opus Dei, Focolare, the Charismatic Renewal, Marriage and Engaged Encounter, Cursillo, and the Neocatechumenate have blossomed. And more Catholics than ever have begun reading Scripture on a regular basis.

As a result of this wind of renewal, millions of people have come to a deeper, more personal relationship with Jesus and are finding new meaning for their lives through prayer and Scripture. People have begun to talk about Jesus, not only as the Son of God, but also as their friend and their redeemer. And all of this has happened because of the Holy Spirit’s work in the past few decades.

The Personal Story: A Chain Reaction. The personal story has to do with my mother, Edie. She was born and raised Catholic, but her faith came alive in a new way in 1968, when she had a powerful conversion experience. With a faithful husband and five healthy, active children, Edie should have been happy with her life as it was. And on one level, she was happy. But deep down, she knew she was still searching for meaning in her life. Her struggle led her to reach out to the Lord, and she found him in a life-changing way through the Charismatic Renewal.

After her conversion, Edie began praying, reading Scripture, attending daily Mass, and reading every spiritual book she could find. Along with a couple of other women, she also began a prayer meeting in her parish. I vividly remember her spending so much time helping people come to know Jesus in the intimate way that she had experienced.

Edie especially had a heart for young people, and it showed. She was often invited to share her experiences of the Spirit at Catholic high schools in the area. When follow-up meetings with students began to happen in my home each Friday night, I began to feel touched by the Holy Spirit and slowly joined them. Edie taught us how to pray, how to yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and how to reach out to the Lord.

Edie is ninety-two years old now, and she is still a living testimony to the power of God. She still comes to our prayer meeting, and she still talks about Jesus to everyone she meets. So whenever you read a meditation or an article in our magazine, know that somewhere in the background is the voice of a woman who has faithfully served the Lord for more than fifty years.

I said at the beginning that the tale of The Word Among Us is really two stories, but it is probably more accurate to say that these two stories are intertwined. Having been so deeply affected by the grace of the Charismatic Renewal, Edie is part of the stream of grace that has been flowing since Vatican II, a stream that continues to flow today.

My Own Story. In 1971, I attended a Life in the Spirit Seminar at the prayer meeting and was prayed over for the “baptism in the Spirit.” For those who are unfamiliar with this concept, baptism in the Spirit is a New Testament term that is used today to describe a spiritual experience in which a person feels immersed in the Spirit’s presence and encounters Jesus in a deep, personal way (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).

This powerful experience gave me a new purpose for my life. Previously, my faith had been focused on following the moral teachings of the Church more than the spiritual teachings. I attended Mass and tried to live a good life so that I wouldn’t end up in hell. But I was primarily immersed in my agenda and my plans to be a professional golfer. I didn’t know Jesus, and I had little desire to serve him or to follow him.

But that all changed after I experienced the baptism in the Spirit. Attending the prayer meetings, I began to feel a strong desire to devote my life to serving the Lord. My own dreams began to give way to a desire to give something back to the Lord.

Give Them Something to Eat. Shortly after this, I moved into an apartment with a few young men who were also in college and with a Franciscan priest named Fr. Theophane Rush. Through Edie and Fr. Theo’s guidance, our little household grew in prayer, and we learned how to love each other as brothers. By the time I was married in 1975, I knew for sure that I wanted to serve the Lord with my life. So I spent the next few years serving in the prayer meeting, studying Scripture, developing my spiritual life, and pursuing a doctoral degree in theology.

During these years, I kept sensing the Lord telling me the same thing he told his disciples at the multiplication of the loaves: “You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). So I began to put together a plan for a magazine that would help people pray and read Scripture every day. I wanted to take what God had shown us and share it with other people.

A Team Effort. I envisioned the magazine as having two parts. The first part would focus on offering people insights into the daily Mass readings through short and inspiring meditations. The second part would be a series of articles that would take an in-depth look at a specific theme. Today, thirty-five years later, we still use this same format.

Eager to get started, I presented my plan to Fr. Francis Martin, a Scripture scholar who was guiding me in my doctoral studies. In fact, he is the one who came up with the name The Word Among Us. While Fr. Francis, Fr. Theo, and a few other priests joined me in writing the main articles, other members of our prayer group focused on writing the daily meditations, the saints’ stories, and the personal witnesses. We also learned about distribution, production, and marketing.

So while it was my idea to start this magazine, the actual writing, design, and production of it was a team effort by many people: skilled, generous theologians working alongside committed laypeople. Together we prayed and tried to help each other grow closer to Jesus, and together we shared with our readers what we were experiencing and learning. Finally, after much planning and prayer, we published our first edition of The Word Among Us in December 1981.

Years of Learning. We printed our first edition in a garage, and we collated, stapled, and labelled all one thousand copies in the cafeteria of a local school. Amazingly, the magazine sold out, and demand increased every month.

In those early years, the computers we used were slow and fragile. Building a database of names as well as making sure our subscribers received their issues, renewed when their subscription expired, and paid was a difficult and at times disastrous affair. Who knows how many copies were lost, never sent, or sent to the wrong locations? Fortunately, our subscribers were patient and forgiving!

Over time, we improved in every area. From small beginnings, we have grown to the point where we now have full customer service, data entry, technology, editorial, and marketing teams. We pray together, and we encourage each other daily. It’s truly a blessed working environment, and for those of us who were there at the beginning, the first few years hold a special place in our hearts. We̵#8217;ll never forget the haphazard, inefficient, and chaotic ways we did things—and how God used our meager efforts to touch people’s lives.

Looking Ahead. Thirty-five years is a long time, yet it can go by so fast! It’s hard to believe that it was so long ago when we were printing in a garage and stapling in a cafeteria. I don’t think that anyone who was “present at the creation” imagined that it would grow as dramatically as it has.

That’s why, as we begin our thirty-fifth year, we feel very humbled. We know that the Holy Spirit is the true founder of The Word Among Us, and we know that this is his work, not ours.

We are all very grateful for the opportunity to serve the Lord in this way, and there are times when we feel overwhelmed by this responsibility. So as we look to the next thirty-five years, we want to ask the Holy Spirit to remain with us and to keep blessing you, our readers, with a deep outpouring of his life and love.


1981—The Word Among Us prints its first issue in December, offering it to 1,000 readers.

1985— 50,000 readers. The Spanish-language edition, La Palabra Entre Nosotros, is first published.

1989— Word Among Us Partners is established to provide copies of The Word Among Us to those in prison. More than 800 inmates receive free subscriptions.

1993— 200,000 readers.

1995— The Word Among Us Press begins to publish books on prayer, Scripture, and the saints.

1996— Jeff Smith, president of The Word Among Us, and Leo Zanchettin, editor, present Pope John Paul II with English and Polish editions of the magazine.

2001— 20,000 prison inmates receive free subscriptions to The Word Among Us through our Partners program.

2004— 400,000 readers.

2005— The Word Among Us introduces its Mass Readings Edition. Word Among Us Partners begins sending copies of The Word Among Us to men and women in the military.

2009— The Word Among Us Press begins publishing a new series of children’s books, starting with Jesus Speaks to Me on My First Holy Communion.

2010— Word Among Us Partners begins sending copies of The Word Among Us to pregnancy centers and postabortion ministries.

2013— The Word Among Us introduces a Canadian edition featuring Mass readings drawn from the Canadian lectionary.

2014— The Word Among Us begins publication of an African edition.

At the time of printing— 600,000 Readers, 90 Countries, 13 Languages, 225 Books, 100,000 Partners—between prisons, military, colleges, and pregnancy centers.