Not just another 'trade meeting,' convocation seeks to unify U.S. church

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — This summer’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders comes at a time when the
U.S. Catholic Church is seeking how best to respond to a changing social landscape
while bringing Pope Francis’ vision for a church that offers mercy and joy to the

by the bishops, the historic convocation will find more than 3,000 Catholic
leaders — bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople — meeting July 1-4 in
Orlando, Florida, to focus on how the pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation,
“Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), applies in
the United States.

pope’s document lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization —
missionary discipleship — in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest
and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.

Jonathan Reyes, executive director
of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development
and a convocation planner, sees the gathering as a way for Catholics across the
diverse spectrum of the church to unify in Christ.

beauty of it for us as Catholics is it’s not just another trade meeting,”
Reyes told Catholic News Service. “This is centered, as Pope Francis said
again and again, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s what holds us
together. Even Catholics need a moment of unity these days. Not just our
country, but we as Catholics need a moment of unity around Christ.”

idea of missionary discipleship expressed by the pope has taken root in the
work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s the pre-eminent theme in
the 2017-2020 strategic plan the bishops adopted during their annual fall
general assembly in November.

for the gathering, titled “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of
the Gospel in America,” has been underway for a few years. It is being
called to examine today’s concerns, challenges and opportunities for action in
light of the church’s evangelization mission, Reyes explained.

we’re going to encounter Christ together, converse together, pray together,
encounter one another and talk very practically about what are the challenges,
what’s it mean to be missionary disciples at this moment and how do we go out
and do it,” Reyes said.

want people to mix and mingle and learn from each other during the
invitation-only event.

group of people would never be in the same strategic conversations together if
it weren’t for the bishops calling them together. They are in all kinds of ministries
throughout the church. They are professionals in all the different fields,
education, business, teachers. We have people from all socioeconomic
groups,” Reyes said.

we’re going to have a conversation that could only be had by the bishops.
That’s needed in this moment. I think everybody agrees we need this
conversation. It’s not about the things that divide us. And the beauty is we
have this document from Pope Francis, ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’ There was unity
around that document when it came out, a document that opens with ‘I invited
all of you to a personal encounter with Christ,’ which is right where we
want to start,” he said.

Such a
gathering of bishops and key church leaders has occurred just once before within
the U.S. church.

In 1917,
in response to the country’s entry into World War I, the bishops met with a
select group of leaders to determine how to respond to social needs emerging
from the war. That meeting at The Catholic University of America in Washington led to the
formation of the National
Catholic War Council “to
study, coordinate, unify and put in operation all Catholic activities
incidental to the war.” After the war, the bishops met to make the council
permanent and established the National
Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner to today’s USCCB.

were responding to a very different crisis, World War I. But there was a sense
of the importance of the moment that the church of the United States had to
come together under the bishops to find a way of going forward, a vision of
hope for the country and to serve,” Reyes said.

Today, like
the wider society, the U.S. church is grappling with how best to respond to rapid
sociological changes: demographics including a rising Latino population and people
leaving organized religion, an economy that has led to a smaller middle class,
a broadening of the legal definition of marriage, polarization along ideological
lines and technological advances that have changed how people relate with each

How to
respond under the guidance of Pope Francis will begin to be discussed during
the convocation. Each day has its own theme for participants to consider in
light of changing church and social structures:

— July
1: National Unity

— July
2: Landscape and Renewal

— July
3: Work and Witness

— July
4: A Spirit of Mission

On days
2 and 3, plenary sessions will feature panel discussions pertaining to an
aspect of the respective themes with nearly two dozen breakout sessions afterward
exploring wide-ranging topics influencing the church’s work.

will be part of each day as well. The July 3 Mass will incorporate religious
liberty as part of the bishops’ annual Fortnight for Freedom observance.

and planners, including the bishops envision the convocation as a starting
point with Pope Francis providing the inspiration through his call to bring the
Gospel to others.

Gospel is a pretty good thing to rally around,” Reyes told CNS. “You
can build a lot unity out of it.”

– – –

Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article