By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — When a diverse group of more than 3,000 Catholic leaders convene in Orlando, Florida, they will be coming up with ways to best reflect the church’s missionary call in today’s world.
The invitation-only convocation will gather bishops, heads of national Catholic organizations and lay movements, leaders of religious orders and diocesan ministries and outreach programs. It also will feature a number of nationally known Catholic speakers.
But the participants will be the experts, is how Jonathan Reyes, one of the organizers, sees it.
In a mid-January presentation to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ employees about the convocation, Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, said the event was about: “How do we carry on our mission in this trying time?”
He also said the event — “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 1-4 in Orlando — will be a sign of unity for the church because it will bring diverse groups together to discuss and share not only their challenges but more importantly, their ideas, resources and tools for moving forward.
This gathering did not come together spontaneously but has been in the works since 2009 through the work of numerous bishops’ committees: pro-life activities; evangelization and catechesis; religious liberty (ad hoc); domestic justice and human development; international justice and peace; and laity, marriage, family life and youth.
The plan, from the outset, has been to bring Catholic leaders from across the country to closely examine and figure out how to best live out Pope Francis’ call for all Catholics to be missionary disciples in today’s world as expressed in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).
Dioceses will be sending delegations chosen by their bishops, and other attendees will be key leaders of Catholic organizations, apostolates, missions, congregations, institutions and agencies identified by the USCCB.
In a video explaining the event on the U.S. bishops’ website — http://www.usccb.org/convocation — Reyes said the four-day event will be divided into three sections. There will be a number of short talks looking at the challenges facing Catholics in society. The bishops will lead sessions in explaining the role or missionary disciples and asking participants to rededicate themselves to this work. The other key aspect of the meeting will be the breakout sessions where diocesan teams and other group leaders can meet and figure out ways forward.
At the bishops’ meeting last fall, Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said the convocation will be an opportunity for church leaders to cross “church silos” as a sign of unity.
He cited in particular the differences within the church between pro-life and social justice advocates and said he sees the event as a way to bridge the divide.
In the video and his remarks to USCCB staff, Reyes echoed that there are clear divisions among Catholics today that in some ways mirror society at large — particularly with regard to areas such as social justice, evangelization and pro-life.
He said the convocation aims to be a “powerful moment of Catholic unity,” bringing Catholics together “who would otherwise never have the occasion to be in the same room together” under the leadership of the bishops to focus on the way forward in the faith.
He and the other organizers also don’t see the event as a self-contained gathering but as a launch for the church at large, once participants return to their organizations and dioceses with newfound fervor and tools.