Participants at #CatholicConvo get to work on the theme "Landscape and Renewal"
After spending the first day in welcome activities and prayer, participants at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders began work in earnest on Day 2.
Plenary sessions and breakout discussions focused on the theme “Landscape and Renewal.” By mapping the American Christian landscape as it appears today, speakers and panelists laid important groundwork for the conference’s later discussions, which will investigate the evangelical methods required by today’s changing landscape.
After Morning Prayer, convocation participants entered the conference’s first plenary session, with the topic “Charting the Landscape and Mission Field.”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami opened the session by reflecting briefly on the recent history of the Church’s evangelical efforts in the United States. Experience, he explained, has confirmed what Pope Francis repeatedly asserts about evangelization, that the missionary field is changing. As a result, the archbishop continued, new approaches to evangelization are necessary. In ways not seen in recent years, the gospel must be presented with confidence and joy. Preaching the gospel confidently and proclaiming it joyfully lies at the heart of missionary discipleship, Archbishop Wenski concluded.
Dr. Hosffman Ospino of Boston College then took the podium to deliver the plenary session’s keynote address. Building on Archbishop Wenski’s remarks, Dr. Ospino described for participants exactly how the current missionary landscape in America is changing.
He retraced the history of evangelization in North America, beginning with the arrival of Spanish and French missionaries in the 17th century, and continuing with the inundation of European Catholic immigrants in the 19th century. Into the 20th century, Ospino observed, European Catholic immigrants assimilated successfully into American life, achieving access to education and other cultural and economic benefits. During the same century, however, Catholic immigrants of non-European origin remained on the periphery of American Catholic life. Dr. Ospino noted that in many parts of the country ethnic Africans and Asians, despite their cultural and economic disadvantages, brought new life and strength to faltering American parishes.
Now in the 21st century, as the non-European Catholic population continues to grow, it will soon combine with the Latino Catholic community to constitute the majority population of American Catholicism. When this occurs, a major shift in the missionary landscape of the United States will have taken place. Dr. Ospino concluded that this shift will present the Church in the U.S. with “a new opportunity, a time of grace.”
Following Dr. Ospino’s address, a panel of experts discussed the themes raised in it. The panelists included Helen Alvaré of the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University; Fr. Thomas Gaunt, S.J., of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; Fr. Agustino Torres, C.F.R., of Latinos Por La Vida, and Kerry Weber of America magazine.
After the panel discussion, participants attended any one of 22 breakout sessions designed to “Go Deeper into the Landscape.” The aim of these smaller group discussions was to examine specific aspects of America’s changing Catholic landscape. Topics included: “The Rise of the ‘Nones,’” “Growing Isolation in America,” The Catholic Landscape at Colleges and Universities,” “The Reality of Singleness in the Church,” and “The State of the Family and Human Sexuality.”
After lunch, a second plenary session opened with a panel discussion focused on “The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship.”
Panelists included Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport; Fr. Raphael Capó of the Southeast Pastoral Institute; Curtis Martin of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students; Sherry Weddell of the Catherine of Siena Institute; and Sr. Miriam James Heidland, S.O.L.T.
All shared stories of their success at forming believers, especially young ones, into leaders who bring others to the Lord. The panel’s discussion was prefaced by introductory remarks by Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford.
After the panel discussion, Donald Cardinal Weurl, archbishop of Washington, delivered the afternoon keynote address. Like the panel before him, his topic was “The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship.”
The cardinal reminded participants that the call to embrace missionary discipleship is nothing new. It is as old as the gospel itself. But it is a call that is being renewed in the Church, the cardinal observed, primarily by the example of Pope Francis. In his person, the pope is renewing the Church as an outgoing and inviting body of disciples. Cardinal Weurl stressed that putting on an outgoing and inviting face cannot be a passing phase for the missionary disciple but must become “the ordinary way that we do things in all Catholic institutions.” Over the remainder of his remarks, Cardinal Weurl outlined five characteristics of the evangelizing disciple, which he listed as boldness, connectedness to the Church, urgency, compassion, and joy.
In the late afternoon, Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. In his homily, he urged convocation participants to renew themselves through the exercise of mercy. As an illustration of the power of mercy, Archbishop Gregory recalled the forgiveness that the congregation of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., showed to Dylann Roof after he murdered several of its members in 2015.
Day 2 of the convocation ended as it began—with prayer. After supper, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, presided over a service of Eucharistic adoration. Assisted by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Cardinal O’Malley reflected on the theme “Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy.” Both bishops focused on resolving the conflicts, ecclesial and otherwise, that separate Christians from each other.
For more information on the convocation, visit the convocation website. To follow the weekend’s events on social media, use the hashtag #CatholicConvo.