The Diocese of Wilmington’s Sesquicentennial Committee has spent a year or so planning Convocation 150, the daylong celebration that will be held Nov. 3 at the Ocean City Convention Center. But the genesis of the event traces its roots back a few months earlier than that, sprung from a conference in central Florida.
Msgr. Steven Hurley, the vicar general, traveled to Orlando in July 2017 with a group from the diocese for a conference for Catholic leaders from around the country. Every bishop in the United States was asked to send a delegation. The theme was “The Joy of the Gospel.”
“I want to say about 5,000 people were there,” Msgr. Hurley said.
The Orlando conference was spurred by Pope Francis’ encyclical “Evangelium Gaudium,” or “The Joy of the Gospel.”
“It’s long, but it’s very powerful,” Msgr. Hurley said. “Basically, it’s about evangelization.”
Being a welcoming church is the first step of evangelization, he said. The question Catholics have to ask about themselves and their parishes and institutions are what does it mean to be a welcoming church or parish. It starts with the first voice a person hears when they pick up a phone or step into a church.
For example, a couple might call a parish about getting their baby baptized. Often, the first thing they hear on the other end is a question about whether they are registered.
“Basically, there are barriers that are put up. We need to be welcoming. It starts there, but it’s also, how do we welcome each other at liturgy. How welcoming are we as a parish, as a church on every level?” Msgr. Hurley asked.
“If we really are living this Gospel lifestyle, it should impact us with a sense of joy as we encounter one another and share our faith.”
‘Maintenance to mission’
One way to advance our evangelization is to evaluate if we are heading from maintenance to mission, he continued.
“Maintenance is keeping things going as they are. Mission is going forward. We’re out there. Mission is that each of us are to be missionary disciples. That we’re out there, actively engaged in spreading the good news, spreading the Gospel in our own unique way,” he said.
Part of that is reaching the peripheries, reaching people who are disenfranchised or otherwise might feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church. Those are the people with whom Jesus spent the most time, Msgr. Hurley said.
All that plays into Convocation 150, but first and foremost, it’s a celebration of 150 years of ministry in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, “for us to come together and to celebrate 150 years of rejoicing, of the good work that has been done by thousands and thousands of people,” he said.
Part of the day will be devoted to getting back to basics about being a welcoming church, recognizing our shortcomings and taking down barriers. Moving from maintenance to mission also is part of the agenda. The convocation will address whether people in the diocese are ready to re-commit themselves to their ministries and to recapture their sense of joy in doing so. That last part is very important, Msgr. Hurley said.
“One of those things that attracted nonbelievers to those early Christian communities was their joy. They were apparently very joyful about what they did, and that’s attractive to others, and I think that’s how we’re going to attract people to be part of us, is to show our joy,” he said.
“I think we have a great deal to offer, and we can’t forget that. In response to any crisis or any scandal, we just double down and do what we do best and continue to do it to the best of our ability.”
The schedule for the day begins with morning prayer, followed by the keynote speaker and remarks from Bishop Malooly. The keynote speaker is Msgr. Richard Hilgartner, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore who is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Cockeysville, Md., and president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. He also served as the executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. bishops’ conference from 2007-14.
According to Msgr. Hurley, Msgr. Hilgartner, also an adjunct professor of systematic theology at St. Mary Seminary and University in Baltimore, will address the theme of the convocation, missionary discipleship and reaching the peripheries.
Msgr. Hilgartner said his address will look at the parish as the place of encounter with Jesus. Leaders and the faithful, he said, need to discern God’s will as they reach out to invite people to meet and walk with Jesus.
“Our experience at Sunday Mass is the central event of the week for us, but sometimes we ask too much of the Mass to bear the burden of providing everything: the opportunity to praise and thank God, the means of teaching the faith to the faithful, to evangelize those who have not heard the gospel, and the experience of community life. I want to explore how we make good use of the liturgy, and how our parish communities live the ‘joy of the Gospel’ so as to reflect the presence of Jesus,” he said.
Two breakout sessions are scheduled, as is a working lunch. There will be a Spanish track, and some translation devices will be available. The day concludes with Mass, with Msgr. Hurley as the homilist. His homily will focus on the two primary commandments: You shall love your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.
“I think the takeaway for the participants is, let’s really think about our parishes. Is it welcoming to strangers? Is it welcoming to people who may not look like us, or speak like us or sound like us? Is it welcoming?
“Also, what are we doing in terms of mission as a parish? Are we in maintenance mode, maintaining the status quo, or are we pushing the boundaries a little bit? And who are we reaching out to, or are we reaching out? We can’t wait for people to come to us. We have to be out there,” Msgr. Hurley said.
He knows there are great ideas out there, and Catholics need to tap into them.
“I have nothing but great hope for this diocese. We’re doing really well right now.”