Evangelization at the margins drives USCCB convocation planning

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. An organizer of a convocation of American Catholic leaders in July said reaching to the margins of the world is one of the themes of the event. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — This summer’s convocation of American Catholic leaders will give the 3,000 participants a better understanding of what it means to be missionary disciples who evangelize in every facet of their lives.

Representatives of sponsoring organizations preparing for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops-led, invitation-only “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, said they are drawing from key papal documents and long-standing church teaching to develop a program that inspires attendees to act joyfully in bringing mercy to a 21st-century world.

Pope Francis, following in the footsteps of his predecessors since the Second Vatican Council, has focused his papacy on the meaning of missionary discipleship and the importance of reaching to the margins of the world, said Pallotine Father Frank S. Donio, director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.

“The term ‘missionary discipleship’ is saying that we’re a follower (of Jesus), but we’re being sent,” Father Donio explained.

The call to be sent means people are invited to evangelize, he said.

“What does that look like in the domestic church of the home, the workplace, as a student, in the public square, in peace and justice work? It’s bringing all of these different people together and (to) discuss and understand how it plays out in your parish in worship, faith formation, for others in terms of care for neighbor and charity and justice,” Father Donio told Catholic News Service.

Blessed Paul VI outlined the church’s call in his 1975 apostolic exhortation,  “Evangelii Nuntiandi” (“Evangelization in the Modern World”). The document emerged a year after the 1974 Synod of Bishops, which re-emphasized the essential missionary character of the church and the duty of each member to bear witness to Christ in the world.

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In his exhortation, one of the most authoritative categories of papal document,  Blessed Paul wrote that each member of the church is called to evangelize the world because “the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the church.”

“For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself,” he wrote. “The intimate life of this community — the life of listening to the Word and the apostles’ teaching, charity lived in a fraternal way, the sharing of bread, this intimate life only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion, and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation of the good news. Thus it is the whole church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole.”

Subsequently, Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation  “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) laid out his vision for an evangelical church, one that focuses on the poor and most vulnerable, particularly the aged and unborn.

Both documents are key components guiding the planning process, Father Donio said.

“It’s recognizing that everybody has something that they’re bringing and we’re meant to go out and not stay within our comfortable confines,” he said.

“The beautiful thing about the convocation, it’s an opportunity where the official teachers, the bishops — not Catholic celebrities, authors, theologians — are the ones calling us together as church in the United States to be able to listen to one another, to dialogue with one another, to deepen our collaboration with one another when we’re sometimes in our separate little worlds,” Father Donio told CNS.

“It’s the bishops collegially saying we need to come together because we can’t be church in the 21st century in the United States addressing the multiplicity of concerns (unless we) live faith today in a joyful, vibrant, outward focused way and build up our faith,” he added.

Representatives of other convocation sponsors see the call to evangelize as integral to their mission. For some the call also is a way to recruit new members to ensure that their outreach ministries have a rich future.

“Part of the way that we carry out our evangelization is by witnessing who we are and what we believe as disciples of Christ in the world so people see what it means to be joyful about being disciples of Christ,” said  Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations at Catholic Relief Services.

“So people who hear are excited and proud of what we do. That is a part of the evangelization: witness in our commitment bringing God’s love and our love to people in need around the world, regardless of their creed or nationality and without expecting anything in return,” she told CNS.

To illustrate the point, CRS is developing opportunities for convocation participants to learn what it is like to work with people in need and to be in solidarity with suffering people around the world. Specifics have yet to be worked out, Rosenhauer said.

The  Society of St. Vincent de Paul is looking to raise awareness of its work. Although the agency has conferences in   4,400 U.S. parishes, said  David Barringer, executive director, there are more than  13,000 more to reach.

The society is looking at ways to interest young people into its work of visiting families in need and, more recently, inmates in prison, he said. “When people find out what we do, they go, ‘Wow, I’d like to know more about it,'” he explained to CNS.

“I think we can be a partial answer for people looking to re-engage with the church,” Barringer added.

At the National Council of Catholic Women, Sheila Hopkins, president, also sees the convocation as a way to introduce the organization more broadly.

She said many parishioners and young people do not realize NCCW’s members help victims of domestic violence, staff food banks and offer respite for caregivers among numerous other activities. She is hopeful that the convocation showcases those efforts as examples of modern-day evangelization.

“God calls us to do for others,” Hopkins said. “We do a lot of work that we feel is one of our purposes as church.”

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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