Catholic convocation: Combination pep rally, retreat inspires leaders

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) — From July 1-4 the main floor of the Hyatt
Regency Hotel in Orlando was transformed into a huge parish hall with places
for worship, prayer, discussion, and even coffee and doughnuts during the “Convocation
of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

At the convocation
3,500 church leaders — men and women religious, bishops and laypeople — gathered to set a new course for the U.S. Catholic Church.

a retreat format, each day started and ended with group prayer. Mass
was celebrated each day in the hotel ballroom, and there were plenty of
scheduled times for the sacrament of reconciliation and private prayer in a
large room turned into an adoration chapel.

Many of
the keynote sessions took the form of pep talks encouraging delegates to share
their faith boldly with the world at large and within their own families and
parishes. The numerous breakout sessions provided the working aspect of the
gathering: closely examining what the church is doing and where it can do more.

than 155 bishops attended the gathering, sitting with their delegations for
meals and breakout sessions. Cardinals and bishops who spoke at keynote sessions
or in Mass homilies encouraged participants that this was their time, their
moment, stressing the urgency to bring God’s message of love to a divided world.

At the
final Mass, described as a “Mass of Sending,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of
Galveston-Houston said the church is called to achieve great things in the face
of the impossible — to unite people together by going to the peripheries of
society and sharing the good news of Jesus through action rooted in faith.

and brothers, we are in a very, very significant time in our church in this
country,” said Cardinal DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops, and he urged the delegates to receive God’s grace for the work ahead.

None of
the homilists or keynote speakers sugarcoated the challenges for the modern
church and more than once speakers pointed out that Catholics are leaving the
church in greater numbers, particularly young adults, than those joining the church.

But as Auxiliary
Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles pointed out: “The saints always
loved a good fight and we should like a good fight too.”

bishop, who addressed the crowd through a video hookup July 4, told them it was
an “exciting time to be an evangelist” but that they also should pick
up their game to evangelize effectively.

the convocation Pope Francis was pointed out as a model for modern Catholics to
follow in inviting others, especially those on the peripheries, to Christ. Speakers
also were quick to quote his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii
Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which lays out a vision of
the church dedicated to evangelization — or missionary discipleship — in a
positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including
the aged, unborn and forgotten.

homilies during the convocation specifically quoted the pope’s admonition in
“Evangelii Gaudium” that Catholics shouldn’t be “sourpusses” but should reflect joy.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl acknowledged that Catholics are not always comfortable
with the idea of evangelizing, but said they need to be willing to step out of
themselves and talk with people about their faith as part of an encounter the
pope speaks about.

Part of this
simply involves listening to people, caring for them and leading them to Jesus,
said speaker Sister Miriam James Heidland, a sister of the Society of Our Lady
of the Most Holy Trinity.

were repeatedly encouraged to reach out to the peripheries especially to immigrants
and the poor but also to all members of the church’s diverse family — people of
all races, women and young people.

Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston
College, said it is time for the church to start building a “language of
communion” rather than dividing the church community into different groups
and individually responding to those needs.

the church serving the church,” he said. “We all are the

That message
inspired Sister Kathleen Burton, a Sister of St. Joseph who is co-director of
the Office of Faith Formation, Family Life and Lay Ministry Formation in the
Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, who said: “The walls need to come down.”

a renewed sense of evangelization and re-evangelization,” the delegate
told Catholic News Service. “We’re being challenged that we don’t wait for
people to come to us, but we’ve got to go out to them.”

For many
delegates, seeing the church’s diversity — Latinos, African-Americans and
Africans, Native Americans, and Asians from across the continent at the
convocation — was an inspiring sight, helping them better understand the idea
of the church as family.

Griffin Campbell, director of the Office of Ministry to African American Catholics in the
Diocese of Cleveland, said the key to embracing diversity and going to
the peripheries will be teamwork among laypeople, clergy and diocesan staff.

church should “not just open the doors on Sunday,” she said,
“but make sure our doors are open Sunday to Sunday.”

At the
end of the closing Mass, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the
United States, who attended all four days of the convocation, congratulated attendees
for the invigorating discussion.

He called
it a “kairos,” or opportune moment, in the life of the U.S. church and said he would tell Pope Francis: “the Spirit is alive in the church in the
United States.”

will tell him of the commitment of many missionary disciples and their love for
the church,” he added.

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to this report was Dennis Sadowski in Orlando.

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