Bishops convene Catholic leaders for conversation, inspiration

convocation-logoEarly in July, the U.S. bishops invited “Catholic leaders” from all over the U.S. to gather for a convocation. Since this meeting overlapped with our Spirit Days and Jubilee, I was asked to attend for our Congregation.

Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America was held July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida. Also attending the meeting were more than 3,000 other delegates from each diocese in the U.S. Chosen by the bishops, some delegates were from parishes, Catholic organizations and religious orders, and more were from diocesan staffs. The purpose of the gathering, in the words of the convening documents, was to have a “strategic conversation” which focused on “forming missionary disciples to animate the Church and engage the culture.” The convocation also aimed to draw out “fresh insights from participation in strategic conversation about current challenges and opportunities informed by new research, communications strategies and successful models.”

The landscape of the U.S. church has changed much in the last decades. So the questions behind the meeting were:

  • What does social analysis tell us about the “landscape” of the United States today?
  • How can we respond?
  • How does the call to missionary discipleship affect the way we structure church programming?
  • How do we witness to, live out and celebrate our faith in the public square?
  • What is the spirituality of a missionary disciple and what does the communion of saints have to teach us?
  • What does it mean for parishes, dioceses and Catholic organizations to go to the peripheries?

There were lots of bishops there. Many stayed for the entire four days. The structure of the days included large group keynote sessions, each followed by 22 simultaneous topical breakout sessions. Every breakout was chaired by a bishop and had a bishop on its panel. I was impressed by the commitment the bishops made to this meeting!

I found the keynote talks quite good. Hosffman Ospino, Ph.D. — associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College — set the tone the first full day with his keynote address. He discussed cultures, both ethnic and religious, including the “nones” — the increasing number of people in the U.S. who say they have no religious affiliation, including many former Catholics. The “nones” are as high as 35 percent in some parts of the country. Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles was very pastoral, and he expressed dismay at the breakdown of our society and culture that has produced 60,000 homeless people in the Los Angeles diocese. Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, gave a talk impressive in its scope and depth of quotations from social teachings of the church, going back to great medieval thinkers and popes of the last three centuries. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. made me laugh to myself when he ended his talk with “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again” — Wuerl had strongly opposed the suppression of that acclamation when the GIRM was issued! And Bishop Robert Barron — who has produced The Catholicism Project, Catholicism: The New Evangelization and Word on Fire with Father Barron — gave a wonderful talk. In it he referenced the recurrent emergence of religious life in its different forms during crisis periods of church history, and how the radical living of the Gospel by religious men and women is itself evangelization.

There were some downsides to the convocation. The breakout sessions used too much time for the panels, so there was not enough time for leaders to share their own expertise or probe and ask questions. Generally speaking, I did not hear many of the “fresh insights … informed by new research, communications strategies and successful models” that the convocation hoped to surface. Another dismaying element, at least for those of us in the San Bernardino delegation, were the Masses and the huge eucharistic procession. After all the talk of a multicultural U.S. church, the liturgical music was mainly beautifully performed choir polyphonic, much in Latin.

As I reflect on the convocation as a whole, it seems to me that it was more motivational and inspirational than insightful about how to be a missionary disciple in today’s USA. And so, for that inspiration I am thankful I was there!

– Story by Sister Mary Garascia

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