The USCCB Convocation of Catholic Leaders

On July 1-4, The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) held the first ever Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida. Ten people from the Archdiocese of Boston were able to attend this gathering through scholarships made available by the USCCB. I was also fortunate to be among the archdiocesan participants in attendance through the generosity of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston.

The convocation participants included cardinals, bishops, priests, religious sisters and priests and lay leaders from all over the U.S. The theme of the convocation, "The Joy of the Gospel in America" was drawn from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel"). Participants were encouraged to continue their good work and to find new ways to bring the joy of the Gospel to those most in need. Evangelii Gaudium calls all Catholics to deepen our relationship with Christ as his disciples and then to go forward and make disciples in our parishes, our families and in our world. This is precisely the work of the New Evangelization! Much of what was presented directly correlated to what we in the Archdiocese of Boston are being called to in Disciples in Mission, which was encouraging for the Boston delegates. However, we found ourselves challenged by presenters to better understand the culture to which we are being called to bring the good news.

Dr. Hosffman Ospino, an active parishioner in the archdiocese and a professor at Boston College, delved into the landscape of the mission field that is before us now in our country. He presented a profile of the Church in the U.S. and the growth of the immigrant groups that make up our parishes and our nation. Given the changing demographic landscape in our country, Dr. Ospino sees us at a new moment. Doing the work of evangelization may be messy, but if we are to bring the message of Jesus Christ to others, we need to be open to one another's differences, be authentic, and be willing to accompany others along the way. Not only do we need to see ourselves as "missionary disciples," but Dr. Ospino said, we also need to "declare ourselves in a permanent state of mission."

Cardinal Sean preached at a prayer service and Holy Hour, "Encountering Jesus Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy." Using the story of Jesus appearance to the disciples after the resurrection (Jn 20:19-29), the cardinal reflected that after the Resurrection, the disciples recognized Jesus by his wounds. The challenge for us is to see Jesus in those wounded around us.

This requires moving out of our comfort zones to what presenters referred to as the "peripheries." For some, that means going to the margins of society to be with the poorest of the poor. For others, it may require looking around one's parish or community and being the face of Christ to those who are poor right in our midst.

July 3 began early in the day (at 7:30 a.m.) with a solemn eucharistic procession that was about three-quarters of a mile long. Most of the 3,500 walked in procession praying and singing hymns. It was an impressive witness and reminder to us all that we need to be a Church that moves out into the margins of our culture and society.

Being "Spirit-Filled Evangelizers Equipped for Excellence" was the theme of the last day of the convocation and we were blessed to hear from two "spirit-filled" speakers -- Patrick Lencioni and Bishop Robert Barron. Pat Lencioni challenged the participants to bring the gospel to the places where we get energy and have some influence. While Bishop Barron stated that Pope Francis has evangelized by his radicality, he urged us "to recover this radical form of the Christian life," and ask ourselves are we doing these things: offering radical hospitality, stressing one-on-one engagement and making sure our budgets express our theology!

What you read in this article is just a snapshot of what was presented at the convocation. One thing people can do is listen to the various presenters through the link below that the USCCB made available. You too will be challenged to respond to the call to be evangelizers -- disciples in mission!