Right from the start, Pope Francis made it clear that he wants the Catholic Church to be one of mission, not of maintenance.
That’s what he meant with his famous remark that he wants priests to be shepherds living with the “smell of the sheep” on their hands, and it’s the theme underpinning “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), his 2013 apostolic exhortation calling Church leaders to “embark on a new chapter of evangelization, marked by this joy.”
The U.S. bishops have taken up his call. Beginning July 1, the bishops and leaders of Catholic organizations and groups in their dioceses—some 3,000 participants in all—will gather in Orlando, Fla., for a four-day convocation on how best to carry out the pope’s direction for the Church.
“Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” is the largest gathering sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in its 100-year history. It aims to guide the people of the Church as they go forward in the missionary spirit that Pope Francis wants to see.
It’s an effort we completely support.
Not only because it involves a lot of people putting their heads together to achieve a common goal, although that in itself is worthy. But also because it acknowledges that moving forward in evangelization involves the active participation of lay leaders working alongside clergy and religious to chart the path.
In the archdiocese, Cardinal Dolan tapped the capable Daniel Frascella, director of adult faith formation, to organize the delegation of about 40 people. It’s a good mix of priests, religious men and women and lay people, with high level representatives of all of the archdiocesan pastoral ministries set to attend.
At the cardinal’s request, representatives from parish ministries are also included. The cardinal himself will also play a role in the event. He’s scheduled to be principal celebrant and homilist at the opening Mass July 1.
Of course, Cardinal Dolan has already been moving in the direction of mission over maintenance in his leadership of the Church in New York. That’s why he steered the archdiocese through the “Making All Things New” parish reorganization plan, which resulted in the merger of a number of parishes that were underutilized, so that the Church could use its resources for evangelization instead of the maintenance of old structures.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of the Orlando meeting, where topics over the four days are expected to address four key questions: What is the nature of this current historical moment in the Church and in the nation? How do we respond to this moment as missionary disciples? Where are we called to go, and to whom are we being sent on this mission? What will we do when we get there, and how will we engage the mission?
That’s a lot to ponder and discuss. The participants are already committed to building a better Church, so we’re confident they’ll at least have a good start on the journey.
Frascella told CNY, “We want to be able to bring about vision of missionary Church that Pope Francis calls for in ‘The Joy of the Gospel.’”