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Archbishop Vigneron elected next USCCB secretary beginning fall 2018

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Catholic News Service

 

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit will be the next secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, taking office next November.

Bishops voted 96-88 to elect Archbishop Vigneron Nov. 14 during their fall general assembly. Read more »

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Civility must guide debate on social challenges, USCCB president says

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Catholic News Service

 

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Acknowledging wide divisions in the country over issues such as health care, immigration reform, taxes and abortion, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for civility to return to the public debate.

Contemporary challenges are great, but that they can be addressed without anger and with love Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in his first address as USCCB president during the bishops’ fall general assembly. Read more »

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40 Catholic institutions plan to divest $5 trillion from fossil fuel companies

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Forty Catholic institutions, including the Belgian bishops’ conference and a leading church social welfare agency in South Africa, have decided to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The organizations cited the call of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” to take steps to protect the environment as well as the importance of making investments that lead to a carbon-neutral economy in an effort to address climate change. Read more »

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Eclipse a way to appreciate creation, Vatican astronomer says

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Catholic News Service

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. — A total solar eclipse is a rare event, something to appreciate and enjoy in the mind of Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory.

A combination photograph shows the beginning to the end of a total solar eclipse as seen in 2016 from the beach of Ternate Island, Indonesia. The United States will experience its first coast-to-coast total eclipse in 99 years Aug. 21. (CNS photo/Beawiharta, Reuters)

So as the first eclipse crossed the country from coast to coast in 99 years Aug. 21, Brother Consolmagno wasn’t going to do anything but take it in and think about the beauty and mystery of God’s creation.

The astronomer urged an audience in a packed Sts. Peter and Paul Church during a pre-eclipse program in this southwestern Kentucky town near the point of maximum eclipse to take the time to reflect on what the two minutes and 40 seconds of totality means to them.

“Pray for good weather,” he said to laughs. “But also pray for what God wants you to learn from the experience.”

Tens of thousands of people had descended on Hopkinsville, a city of 33,000 an hour northwest of Nashville, Tennessee, by late Aug. 20. Thousands more were expected the morning of the eclipse. Brother Consolmagno said he was as excited as anyone to view the blackening of the sun.

He also said that as a scientist and a person of faith, he is guided by inquisitiveness to explore the heavens and the desire to better understand how God put the universe together. There is no conflict between science the faith, he said.

“Being a scientist can be a way of worshipping God,” he said.

He repeated a similar message to reporters during a news conference before his presentation.

“We’re here not just to remind my fellow scientists who are used to me by now, but also to show religious people how important is it to be able to praise the Creator by studying creation, studying it honestly, finding out how God really created this place. There’s never going to be a shortage of marvels for us to discover or surprises for us to experience,” he said.

“We can come to know the Creator by seeing the things of his creation.”

He said the by understanding the cycle of solar eclipses, occurring about every 18 months and 11 days, people can see the rhythms of the universe and the continuing nature of creation and have an experience “that fills the soul with joy.”

Brother Consolmagno made the trip to Hopkinsville at the invitation of Father Richard Meredith, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Father Meredith told Catholic News Service he contacted the Vatican Observatory soon after he learned a few years ago that the eclipse path would pass over the town.

Parishioners prepared for more than a year, having established a committee to welcome visitors and host Brother Consolmagno.

“Being a parish with a parochial school, we stress the unity of truth,” Father Meredith said. “This (eclipse) is a major opportunity to reflect that, as science and faith work together serving to manifest the Lord.”

The eclipse is a wonder and these wonders praise the creator. This could very well be the only planet around the only star whose moon is at the right distance and size to give a total solar eclipse,” the priest said.

He introduced Brother Consolmagno with by reading from Psalm 19: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.”

“This isn’t only Catholic,” he told CNS. “This is a tradition inherited from God’s revelation in the Old Testament.”

 

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Bishop Cantu calls for diplomacy to ease U.S.-North Korea differences

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Diplomacy and political engagement are necessary to resolve the differences between the United States and North Korea and avoid a military conflict, the chairman of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M.,  chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace,  talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington last March. The bishop wrote an Aug. 10 letter to Tillerson calling for diplomatic efforts to avoid a war between the U.S. and North Korea. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington last March. The bishop wrote an Aug. 10 letter to Tillerson calling for diplomatic efforts to avoid a war between the U.S. and North Korea. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Writing Aug. 10, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, echoed a recent call from the Korean bishops’ conference to support talks to secure the peaceful future of the Korean Peninsula.

Bishop Cantu acknowledged that the escalating threat of violence from North Korea’s leaders cannot be “underestimated or ignored,” but that the “high certainty of catastrophic death and destruction from any military action must prompt the United States to work with others in the international community for a diplomatic and political solution based on dialogue.”

The letter follows days of back-and-forth threats between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump has threatened to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” in response to Kim’s warnings of imminent attacks on the U.S. Meanwhile, Kim has said his country was preparing to fire missiles into waters around Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with two military bases.

The angry talk between the leaders has escalated since the Aug. 5 passage at the United Nations of new economic sanctions threatening to cut off a third of North Korea’s exports. Russia and China, two of Pyongyang’s few economic trading partners, supported the sanctions. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also adopted a statement expressing “grave concern” over North Korea’s actions related to the development of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.

From North Korea came an announcement that the country is reviewing plans to strike U.S. military targets in Guam with medium-range ballistic missiles to create “enveloping fire.” In response, the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, in an Aug. 9 statement said everyone there should “stay grounded in the peace of Christ. Look to God during these difficult times when world peace is threatened and pray always.”

“Please pray that the Holy Spirit will instill in the leaders of our country and all the nations the virtues of wisdom and understanding to promote peace rather than war.”

The statement, issued by Father Jeffrey C. San Nicolas, a spokesman for the archdiocese, also reiterated what Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, has advised, that al on the island “remain calm and trust that the security of our island is in good hands with local and national defense forces in place to address such threats.”

“This is the time for all of us to come together,” the priest said. “If a family member, co-worker or neighbor is troubled, take time to talk to them, pray for them and remind them of the providence of Our Lord. We place our complete trust in our God.”

In his letter Bishop Cantu said his committee agreed with the stance of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea in its support for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for humanitarian and military talks with North Korea.

“In solidarity with the Catholic Church in Korea and the efforts of the South Korean government, we urge the United States to encourage and support these talks,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “This avenue, unlike most others, offers the Korean Peninsula a future free from military conflicts or crises, which could simultaneously threaten entire nations and millions of lives in the region.”

A former Vatican diplomat supported such talks.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 9, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said that “instead of building walls and creating dissidence or admitting the possibility of recourse to violence,” both countries must have a constructive approach that benefits the people.

A former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts tasked with monitoring and implementing North Korea sanctions also called for calm and a negotiated solution to the differences between the two countries.

George A. Lopez, chair emeritus of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told Catholic News Service Aug. 10 the interests of both countries can be addressed at the negotiating table.

“We need somebody to talk about what are the underlying security needs of both North Korea and the United States and is there a forum to talk about that,” Lopez said. “If the U.S. issued a simple pledge that we seek no first use against North Koreans, we seek some way to bargain this out, you’d get some response to that.”

Asian nations want stability rather than uncertainty and that will require that talks get underway to assure the peaceful co-existence of both countries, Lopez said. “So how do we get there?” he asked.

Bishop Cantu’s letter reminded Tillerson that “this crisis reminds us that nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction do not ensure security or peace. Instead, they exacerbate tensions and produce and arms races as countries acquire more weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to intimidate or threaten other nations.”

The bishop also cited a call in July by agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals.

A joint declaration released by the USCCB and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with other nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Bishop Cantu and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, conference president, signed the statement.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace organization, said the organization was praying that both nations would step away from potential confrontation. She said Aug. 9 Pax Christi expected to release a statement on the situation within days.

 

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Nuns welcome opponents of gas pipeline to pray at ‘chapel’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —As chapels go, the simple structure on property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ congregation in Columbia, Pa., is not much.

It’s more of an arbor, really: four posts and several cross boards built near a cornfield on farmland the sisters lease. Several pew-like benches are arranged around it.

People sit at an outdoor chapel on the property of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Columbia, Pa,. in early July. The chapel was built by Lancaster Against Pipelines in cooperation with the congregation as a symbol to block the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline, which opponents say would desecrate God's creation. (CNS photo/Mark Clatterbuck, courtesy Lancaster Against Pipeline)

People sit at an outdoor chapel on the property of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Columbia, Pa,. in early July. The chapel was built by Lancaster Against Pipelines in cooperation with the congregation as a symbol to block the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline, which opponents say would desecrate God’s creation. (CNS photo/Mark Clatterbuck, courtesy Lancaster Against Pipeline)

Still, said the sisters, it stands as a symbol of resistance by people of faith to a planned natural gas pipeline called Atlantic Sunrise that developers want to build through miles of farmland and small towns of picturesque Lancaster County.

The pipeline’s path takes it through a strip of land the congregation owns in the Harrisburg diocese that includes farmland and the sisters contend that construction poses a danger to God’s creation. They have declined repeated offers of compensation from Transco, the project’s developer, to allow an easement for it to be built.

“This is something that we felt as a matter of conscience,” said Sister Sara Dwyer, coordinator of the congregation’s justice, peace and integrity of creation ministry. “We had to look at it more deeply and take a stronger stand.”

Allowing the pipeline through the property would run contrary to the congregation’s Land Ethic, she explained. Adopted in 2005, the document upholds the sacredness of creation, reverences the earth as a “sanctuary where all life is protected” and treasures the earth’s beauty and sustenance that must be protected for future generations.

Further backing its claim, the congregation filed a civil rights lawsuit July 14 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania challenging the pipeline. The complaint argues that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Feb. 3 order authorizing construction and operation of the pipeline violates the sisters’ right to practice their faith under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use land they own to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the deeply help religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers. It places a substantial burden on the Adorers’ exercise of religion by taking land owned by the Adorers that they seek to protect and preserve as part of their faith and, instead, using it in a manner and for a purpose that actually places the earth at serious risk,” the complaint reads in part.

Attorneys for the sisters argue in the filing that allowing the pipeline through the property “would harm God’s creation, violate the sacred nature of their property and interfere with their right to freely exercise and practice their religious beliefs in the use of their own land.”

The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s action and have the pipeline rerouted from the Adorers’ 24-acre plot eyed by Transco.

The Adorers’ stance has inspired others who have opposed the entire 183-mile pipeline since it was proposed three years ago by Transco, which is owned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based pipeline company Williams. The pipeline will carry natural gas from hydraulic fracturing wells in northeastern Pennsylvania to existing pipelines that run 10,200 miles from New York to Texas.

Sister Sara said on July 12 the congregation was pleased to allow construction of the chapel after it was proposed earlier this year by Lancaster Against Pipelines, a community group working to stop the project.

The chapel was dedicated July 9 with about 300 people attending. People prayed for guidance in their effort to oppose the project, listened to the Land Ethic being read, and heard from a group of Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky, who joined religious and community groups in a 2013 campaign to oppose another pipeline project by Williams in the state. Williams pulled out of the venture in 2014 citing market forces.

Mark Clatterbuck, Lancaster Against Pipelines co-founder, said the Adorers have inspired the effort to stop the pipeline.

“Having the sisters publicly involved reinforced the moral and religious anchor that has guided this movement,” he said.

“Lancaster Against Pipelines has never been a religious organization,” Clatterbuck added, “but for a lot of the leadership and core folks doing the work, it’s always been a spiritual and religious battle for us. This is care of creation, stewardship of the earth.”

News of the chapel caught the company’s attention, said Chris Stockton, a Williams spokesman. Company lawyers filed an emergency motion in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to take immediate control of the land through eminent domain, which allows the government to appropriate land for the public good.

A federal judge, however, denied the emergency request July 7. The judge said that although the project had been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an already-scheduled court hearing set for July 17 in cases filed against all landowners who have turned down Transco’s monetary offers for easements would be the appropriate venue to hear arguments.

Stockton said the company was concerned that the chapel was going to be a more involved “permanent structure” and it responded to head off any effort that would delay pipeline construction, which is set to begin this fall.

He said the easement being sought from the Adorers involves about an acre.

“The reality also is (the property) is a cornfield and farmed by a tenant farmer. Once (the pipeline is) constructed, it can still be farmed and still be utilized for the same purpose if they want to put the arbor up again. Or they can put it up in any other location,” Stockton said.

Taking such a public stance is new to the Adorers, said Sister Janet McCann, a member of the congregation’s leadership team in St. Louis. She offered a reflection at the chapel dedication. She said if energy companies wanted to invest in sustainable or renewable energy projects on their property, the order would listen.

“We want the energy companies to invest all this time and money and resources into finding sustainable energy sources,” she said. “That’s how this is going to happen. The system has got to change. That’s why we’re standing up to this.

“And we are extremely encouraged by the amount of support we’re getting from all sorts of people, from all sorts of faith tradition and people from no faith tradition who have a love for the earth.”

Lancaster Against Pipelines planned a picnic and prayer service at the chapel July 14 in advance of the court hearing. Some of the Adorers planned to be there.

The sisters realize the courts could clear the way for construction, which would force the chapel to be removed.

“From a congregational point of view,” Sister Sara said, “we’re just taking it one step at a time and seeing what happens next.”

 

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ’s Land Ethic can be read in full at http://adorers.org/asc-land-ethic.

 

 

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Have you heard? A U.N. treaty, backed by Vatican and U.S. bishops, has banned nuclear weapons

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Catholic News Service

The passage of a United Nations treaty banning the possession of nuclear weapons comes at a time when the majority of world’s nations are frustrated with the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

Even with such a pact, years in the making, there is no timeline for total disarmament, arms control experts told Catholic News Service. Read more »

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U.S., European bishops call for elimination of nuclear weapons

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals.

A joint declaration released July 6 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with other nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

A group marching for nuclear disarmament carries a banner during a protest in mid-April in Berlin. Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals. (CNS photo/Clemens Bilan, EPA)

A group marching for nuclear disarmament carries a banner during a protest in mid-April in Berlin. Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals. (CNS photo/Clemens Bilan, EPA)

“The indiscriminate and disproportionate nature of nuclear weapons compel the world to move beyond nuclear deterrence,” the declaration said.

Titled “Nuclear Disarmament: Seeking Human Security,” the declaration was released a day ahead of the July 7 conclusion of a second U.N. conference discussing a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons altogether.

The declaration was signed by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions.

“The teaching of our church, from the catechism to St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, about the urgent need for nuclear disarmament is clear,” Bishop Cantu said in a statement accompanying the declaration’s release. “It is time for us to heed this moral imperative and promote human security both within the United States and Europe and globally.”

The U.S. and most European nations have sat on the sidelines during the U.N. meetings discussing a weapons ban, preferring to focus on the need for broader security measures to allow for strategic stability on the road to verifiable reductions in nuclear arsenals. In all, about 40 nations are boycotting the negotiations to ban such weapons. Most nations continue to support the Non-Proliferation Treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.

Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service his committee and the European bishops wanted to highlight the “glaring absence” of nuclear weapons states, including the U.S., from the U.N. conference.

“The silence gives us some clarity to raise a moral voice, to say, ‘Let’s look from a moral perspective what our priorities are as a nation when we’re looking to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the update and renewal of the nuclear arsenal,” he said.

The declaration, he explained, serves to encourage the countries possessing nuclear weapons to join the U.N. meetings and exercise leadership in reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons stockpiles.

“There are some really serious moral issues, economic issues, priority issues, policy issues that we want to lift up to society and our own electorate,” the bishop said.

“We can lend a voice as well to the Vatican statement that was issued in 2014 that was really critical that clarified for the Catholic world at least and others … that the ethic of deterrence was supposed to be one step on the road toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. It’s (stockpiling weapons) not the pathway itself,” Bishop Cantu added.

The declaration acknowledged that nuclear weapon states have been spending billions of dollars to modernize their nuclear arsenals. “These costly programs will divert enormous resources from other pressing needs that build security,” it said.

“The fact that most of the world’s nations are participating in this effort testifies to the urgency of their concern, an urgency intensified by the prospect of nuclear terrorism and proliferation, and to the inequality and dissatisfaction of non-nuclear states about the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament,” the statement said.

The declaration cited Pope Francis, who during his papacy has repeatedly called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, most recently in a message to the United Nations’ opening conference on a treaty to ban such weapons in March.

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Convocation delegates called to imitate Jesus in reaching the margins

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Catholic News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. — Jesus took a few loaves and fishes and turned them into a feast for thousands, offering the church an example of faith in action, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in sending 3,500 delegates home from the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, who is vice president of USCCB, distribute Communion during the closing Mass July 4 at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations gathered for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, who is vice president of USCCB, distribute Communion during the closing Mass July 4 at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations gathered for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

In the face of adversity and naysayers in today’s world, not unlike the apostles who wondered how they would feed the masses, the church is called to take what they have, as Jesus did and reap the rewards of achieving great things in the face of the impossible, Cardinal DiNardo said in his homily during the convocation.s closing Mass July 4.

“When we see the complexity, when we see the impossible … Jesus will say, ‘Just give me what you have.’ Imagine what we will have left over after we do it at the Lord’s word,” he said.

“Jesus gives the apostles and everybody who listens to them … he gives them that power. Do we believe? St. Paul says if we believe can go out and do what is asked,” said Cardinal DiNardo, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Citing the Gospel reading from John (17:11, 17-23), the cardinal also urged the delegates to reflect on how Jesus during the Last Supper reminded the Twelve Apostles that he will pray for all who believe he is the savior that they may be united in one family under God.

Such is the call of the church, he explained, as the delegates returned home, to unite people together by going to the peripheries of society and sharing the good news of Jesus through action rooted in faith.

“Sisters and brothers, we are in a very, very significant time in our church in this country,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “John 17 today reminds me of how contemplative we’re going to have to be if we are going to be active. Never are you more active than when the word of God is so recalled by you. You are seated there in God’s loving grace, and when you are seated there, you realize how much God blesses you.”

The cardinal urged the delegates to engage in their ministry humbly and to realize that they are nourished in their work through the body and blood of Jesus at Mass.

“We leave here (at the altar) nourished and refreshed and we go and do what we have to do,” he said.

As the Mass ended, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., congratulated convocation participants for a lively and invigorating four days. He recapped the keynote presentations, reminding the delegates what they can do in their communities, much like the apostles, to “give comfort and peace to the wounded.”

“We are journeying together in the common bonds of the journey of faith,” said the archbishop who attended the entire four-day conference that opened July 1.

“This is a ‘kairos’ moment” in the life of the U.S. church, he added, calling people to share “by the witness of your lives” by being missionary disciples, as Pope Francis calls the faithful to be.

Archbishop Pierre also said in his upcoming report to the pope that he would explain that “the Spirit is alive in the church in the United States.”

“I will tell him of the commitment of many missionary disciples and their love for the church.”

 

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Catholic leaders meeting in Orlando seeks to bring ‘Joy of the Gospel’ vision to U.S. church

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — This summer’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders comes at a time when the U.S. Catholic Church is seeking how best to respond to a changing social landscape while bringing Pope Francis’ vision for a church that offers mercy and joy to the world.

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Called by the bishops, the historic convocation will find more than 3,000 Catholic leaders — bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople — meeting July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, to focus on how the pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), applies in the United States.

The pope’s document lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization, missionary discipleship, in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.

Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and a convocation planner, sees the gathering as a way for Catholics across the diverse spectrum of the church to unify in Christ.

“The beauty of it for us as Catholics is it’s not just another trade meeting,” Reyes said. “This is centered, as Pope Francis said again and again, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s what holds us together. Even Catholics need a moment of unity these days. Not just our country, but we as Catholics need a moment of unity around Christ.”

The idea of missionary discipleship expressed by the pope has taken root in the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s the pre-eminent theme in the 2017-2020 strategic plan the bishops adopted during their annual fall general assembly in November.

Planning for the gathering, titled “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” has been underway for a few years. It is being called to examine today’s concerns, challenges and opportunities for action in light of the church’s evangelization mission, Reyes said.

“So we’re going to encounter Christ together, converse together, pray together, encounter one another and talk very practically about what are the challenges, what’s it mean to be missionary disciples at this moment and how do we go out and do it,” Reyes said.

Planners want people to mix and mingle and learn from each other during the invitation-only event.

“This group of people would never be in the same strategic conversations together if it weren’t for the bishops calling them together. They are in all kinds of ministries throughout the church. They are professionals in all the different fields, education, business, teachers. We have people from all socioeconomic groups,” Reyes said.

Such a gathering of bishops and key church leaders has occurred just once before within the U.S. church.

In 1917, in response to the country’s entry into World War I, the bishops met with a select group of leaders to determine how to respond to social needs emerging from the war. That meeting at The Catholic University of America in Washington led to the formation of the National Catholic War Council “to study, coordinate, unify and put in operation all Catholic activities incidental to the war.” After the war, the bishops met to make the council permanent and established the National Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner to today’s USCCB.

“They were responding to a very different crisis, World War I. But there was a sense of the importance of the moment that the church of the United States had to come together under the bishops to find a way of going forward, a vision of hope for the country and to serve,” Reyes said.

Today, like the wider society, the U.S. church is grappling with how best to respond to rapid sociological changes: demographics including a rising Latino population and people leaving organized religion, an economy that has led to a smaller middle class, a broadening of the legal definition of marriage, polarization along ideological lines and technological advances that have changed how people relate with each other.

How to respond under the guidance of Pope Francis will begin to be discussed during the convocation. Each day has its own theme for participants to consider in light of changing church and social structures:

  • July 1: National Unity
  • July 2: Landscape and Renewal
  • July 3: Work and Witness
  • July 4: A Spirit of Mission

On days 2 and 3, plenary sessions will feature panel discussions pertaining to an aspect of the themes with nearly two dozen breakout sessions exploring topics influencing the church’s work.

Mass will be part of each day as well. The July 3 Mass will incorporate religious liberty as part of the bishops’ annual Fortnight for Freedom observance.

Reyes and planners, including the bishops envision the convocation as a starting point with Pope Francis providing the inspiration through his call to bring the Gospel to others.

“The Gospel is a pretty good thing to rally around,” Reyes told CNS. “You can build a lot unity out of it.”

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