On Tuesday, while many of us enjoyed fireworks and cook-outs, 14 representatives of the Archdiocese of Louisville attended a massive and historic gathering of U.S. Catholic Church leaders in Orlando, Fla.
They were among 3,500 delegates to the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.” The gathering took its name and inspiration from Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” in which the Holy Father urges the faithful “to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization” marked by the joy found in relationship with Christ.
While the archdiocese’s 14 delegates travel home and process their experiences, news reports — many published in this week’s edition of The Record — offer an overview of what they saw and heard.
Several reports by Catholic News Service (the wire service sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) quote keynote speakers who urged delegates to meet people on the margins of society.
“Being Christian is more than accepting Jesus as savior, but requires the faithful to go to the peripheries of society where people are struggling materially and spiritually,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told the delegates during his July 3 talk.
“The peripheries,” he explained, “are parts of our cities and the rural areas that we never visit. The other side of the tracks. They are where the poor live. They are the prisons and the tent cities in our public spaces.
The peripheries are the bitter fruits of neglect, exploitation and injustice. They are all the places our society is ashamed of and would rather forget about.
“But for Pope Francis, the peripheries are more than a physical location or a social category. They are places where poverty is not only material but also spiritual,” he said.
Such locations, he said, are places where people “are wounded and feel their life has no meaning and makes no difference,” trapping themselves in sin, addiction, slavery and self-deception.
These are the places where Catholics belong. He was quick to note, not only are clergy, bishops and church workers called to meet people on these peripheries. All Catholics are called there.
As the convocation ended, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., reminded the delegates they can work in their communities, like the apostles, to “give comfort and peace to the wounded.”
“This is a ‘kairos’ moment” in the life of the U.S. church, he said, adding that he plans to tell Pope Francis, “The Spirit is alive in the church in the United States.”
It will be interesting to hear from the Archdiocese of Louisville’s delegates to the convocation in the coming weeks and months. And it will be interesting to see what fruits are produced by the historic gathering.
This is the second time such a gathering has been called for the church in the United States. The first was convened 100 years ago, in 1917. It was prompted by the U.S. entry into World War I and considered how the church might respond to the social needs the war would bring.
What resulted initially was the National Catholic War Council, created “to study, coordinate, unify and put in operation all Catholic activities incidental to the war.”
That council developed into a permanent body eventually and it ultimately became what we now know as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Maybe something new is on the horizon again. Let’s watch closely and be prepared to join in.
MARNIE McALLISTER Editor