By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Fourteen delegates from the Archdiocese of Louisville including Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, were among 3,500, who attended the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla.
The gathering aimed to examine the opportunities and challenges facing the church’s evangelization efforts, according to a news story from Catholic News Service.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said the experience exceeded his expectations. The opportunity to speak about his faith with people he knew as well as those he didn’t, confirms the notion that “when we witness to Christ, we witness together.”
Archbishop Kurtz said he saw the fruitfulness of the convocation, initially “in the sense of hope grounded in realism” that was evident among delegates. “I’m eager to have all the delegates come back together to see, as it simmers, what are some of the next steps we see ourselves taking,” said Archbishop Kurtz.
Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the Archdiocese of Louisville, said that a reunion
of delegates should take place in early fall.
In interviews after the convocation, all of the archdiocese’s delegates said they returned with a renewed sense of commitment to their ministry. They noted that they’re not necessarily feeling called to create something new, but to infuse what they learned into the work they’re already doing.
Each delegate shared their observations, which are collected below:
Reynolds, who attended the convocation, said his most “significant observation was the strength of the gathering and the charge of listening and answering the same question — ‘how do we make missionary disciples?’ ”
Reynolds said it “was a wonderful opportunity to see the diversity of the church in the United States.”
“It was challenging to engage in conversations across diverse perspectives. The unifying fact is that we were answering the same question. That led us through the process,” he said.
Deacon Lucio Caruso, director of mission at Catholic Charities of Louisville, said this historic gathering allowed him to see the church as a “big family” and reminded him that his faith is just a “small part” of a much “bigger picture.”
“Gathering with that many bishops makes me think that my faith matters to the church,” he said.
He returned, he noted, with a “mindfulness” and with a “spirit of greater cooperation.”
Dawn Della Bella, director of lifelong formation and education at St. Albert the Great Church, said she felt “privileged to be in a room with 150 bishops and hear their insights and feel that sense of community.”
Della Bella said she was reminded that “we need to be attentive not only to those who come to us but those who don’t feel comfortable enough to come to us. When you go out to the periphery and you’re with the people, the periphery becomes the center.”
Ed Harpring, coordinator of pro-life ministries, said the convocation was “prayer filled” and he had a sense of the Holy Spirit guiding the gathering.
“The time has come where we need to be bolder in speaking about Jesus Christ. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to open the doors when those evangelization moments present themselves,” he said.
Cathy Reynolds, director of campus ministry at St. Xavier High School, said she was “really excited about the potential for conversations to begin with clergy and laity about what is happening in the church today and the need to find a way to focus on where the people in the pews are and where they are not.”
She was “saddened” to hear, during a presentation, about the numbers of Catholics leaving the church, she said. A dialogue, during the gathering, about reaching out to those who have become disengaged gives her “hope,” however.
Ann Marie Kelly, executive director of Young Professionals Association of Louisville, said she was “excited” to see so many young adults at the convocation.
She returned home more committed to finding ways to reach out to young Catholics who have drifted away from the church, she said.
She sees an opportunity, she noted, for the church to re-engage those young Catholics who are not active but might be considering a Catholic wedding. Many don’t have a parish, are unsure of the rules and are forced to make other plans because the cost of a Catholic wedding is too much, said Kelly.
Her personal goal, she said, is to speak to parish leaders about ways to make a Catholic wedding more accessible to these young adults.
Father Steven Henriksen, pastor of Church of the Ascension, said the convocation was a “showcase for the amazing diversity of our church, black and white, old and young, clergy and laity.”
The convocation, Father Henriksen noted, “wasn’t about defining structures or creating ministries.” It was “about taking the delegates deeper in terms of our own relationship with Christ and how that can be made manifest in the world.”
Robert and Janie Henderson, members of St. Augustine Church, said as black Catholics, there are times they’ve felt excluded and discriminated by white Catholics.
Robert Henderson said he was “impressed with the attention the bishops gave to those who spoke about feeling excluded. I was impressed by how the bishops listened.”
“The bishops were responsive, said racism is a sin which the church needs to be more conscious of and that they’re willing to work with us,” said Robert Henderson.
They returned feeling more empowered. “We, black Catholics, can be a catalyst and a stepping stone to helping others better understand our culture,” he said.
M. Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry, said she felt like Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “ ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, came alive” at the convocation.
“It was truly calling us to unite the people of God by going out into the marginalized communities,” she said.
She believes there’s as much work to do within parishes as there is to do outside parish walls. “Personally, I want to be more intentional in my ministry as I work with others to spread the Good News.”
Eva Gonzalez, director of Hispanic ministry in the Office of Multicultural Ministry, whose office is preparing for the Fifth National Encuentro taking place in 2018, said the convocation felt like one more step in that preparation phase. The work she’s done so far in preparing for the national Encuentro revealed, she said, that Hispanic and Latino Catholics are feeling disconnected from the Church. She heard this at the convocation too, she said.
Sal Della Bella, director of the Office of Parish Leadership Development, said the “gathering reminded me of how much our faith has to offer. It was evident in the diversity of the people there. It was clear that the bishops and the delegates have a love for the church. That was reaffirming.”
The convocation, he said, “identified some of the challenges we have ahead in the church. These challenges can be seen as opportunities, not to necessarily do more, but to do what we’re already doing in a different way. It was a call to get in touch with how much we love Jesus and then go out into the world and share that.”