By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
ORLANDO, Fla. — Just miles from Disney World, Catholic leaders from the Davenport Diocese brainstormed with bishops and other Catholic leaders like themselves on how to spread the Joy of the Gospel, a joy incomparable to the temporary pleasures of a magical kingdom.
The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America was “unlike anything done before in the church in the United States. It is a convocation; it is a journey; it is a strategic conversation on forming missionary disciples led by the bishops and encouraged by our Holy Father, Pope Francis,” said Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas at the four-day event’s opening on July 1.
Ten delegates and two other leaders from the Davenport Diocese participated in the gathering of 3,500 Catholics that included bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated women and men religious, diocesan leaders, pastoral ministers, and representatives of Catholic organizations, schools, hospitals, parishes and movements.
Planning began when Bishop Emeritus Martin Amos led the Davenport Diocese. He recognized the significance of the national convocation and its mission to help Catholics get to know Christ more deeply and to invite others to encounter him. The bishop chose delegates with the help of his leadership team.
Leaders serving in parish ministry, youth and young adult ministry, faith formation, Hispanic ministry, Catholic schools and social justice rounded out the delegation. Special emphasis was placed on youths and young adults, a demographic the church is focusing on, said Don Boucher, diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation and coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Each delegate was deeply impacted by the experience.
“This was the right event at the right time in our church life and in the culture in which we find ourselves,” Boucher said. “It was a good moment for us as a national church to take stock. What really is our mission today? It became evident to me in the ‘joy’ of the four days how key the Apostolic Exhortation ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ is for us today. That truly is the witness we can give, that we can bring to the world — the joy of the Gospel is in our world today.”
Joy isn’t about happiness. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York observed in his homily (punctuated by humor, of course) on the first day of the convocation: “Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God. St. Thomas Aquinas will add that joy flows from hope. If we trust that all is in God’s hand … no trial, no adversity — even though God knows we have a bumper crop of them — can crush us.”
The candid musings of musician Audrey Assad during an evening of witness and prayer July 3 reinforced that understanding of joy for Boucher. She spoke of her struggles, times of discouragement and despair, and yet her faith sustains her. “It is knowing that we live in the presence of a God who loves us and is always there for us. Resting in that, we will be OK,” Boucher reflected.
We are called to unconditional love
“My takeaway from the convocation is how important it is to build relationships with not just our parishioners, but amongst the parish,” noted Julia Jones, youth minister at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove.
“I think we need to be more intentional about developing a community built on faith that truly welcomes everyone, and not just for the sake of saying ‘we have a great parish.’ Leaders of the parish are on the front lines of welcoming people into the community; if we are really modeling missionary discipleship, we cannot hold the power of radical hospitality to ourselves.
“I know one of the highlights for my youth ministry students is the adults that welcome them at the front door every Wednesday, checking in with them on their schoolwork, activities and interests. It’s easy for me to see that on Wednesday evenings, but how does that translate to Sunday mornings? Are we fully welcoming the stranger, or do we leave them feeling like an outsider?
“Coming from an angle of sending youths into young adulthood, when students go out into the world and experience it for the first time, do they have a longing for their faith community, or will they find something new? Something they feel to be more accepting? I think the same thing can be said for adults in our parish. Everyone has busy lives and insecurities. Is the parish a place for support and comfort, or does it create more isolation?
“The Catholic Church is filled with animosity, debates, and at some times is just a hot mess. At the end of the day, no matter where you stand, if we all agree that we are called to unconditionally love and serve in the name of Christ our Lord, then the future of our church will be in the good hands of missionary disciples who have learned from Pope Francis how to get out in the world, get their hands dirty, and make a difference. It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of the convocation. It created many thoughts and ideas in my head and I felt like I was being sent out with a renewed mission for the future of the Catholic faith,” Jones said.
We must be a family
“There is one thing that stands out in my mind above all the rest, and it is a quote from Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn. I think it so clearly captures what exactly we must be — a family, a community based in Christ and on relationship,” observed Father Ross Epping, parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf.
Bishop Caggiano said, “The truth is, there is division that comes with the best of intentions. You know; unbridled zeal: ‘I have all the answers;’ ‘This is the way it’s going to be;’ ‘This is going to save the church.’ Forgive me. No one in this room is saving the church. We already have a savior. His name is Jesus Christ.
So it seems to me, humility is needed among all of us so that we can come together as a family and create a home. For as my mother used to say, ‘If you’re going to invite somebody into your home, make sure it’s clean, has enough food, and when they come in the door they’re family.’
Go out and spread the Good News
“My big takeaway from the convocation was a personal one,” said Luke Ebener, youth minister at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. “Bishop Caggiano mentioned that in order for us to go out to the periphery, we must first go inward. I was challenged in a later session to pray about the question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Not from the usual sense of who do we say Jesus is, but from the sense of who does Jesus say we are. When I, as part of the church, see the answer to this question, it is one of pure love and the Joy of the Gospel. Our only response is to go out and spread the Good News. It changes us, from the inside out. I’m super excited for our entire church to continue to make this vision a reality.”
God will help us minister
“As evangelizing disciples, Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ, reminded us that, ‘as we serve, we are to trust in the presence of Christ in us.’ As we go forth, God will help us to minister,” observed Kent Ferris, diocesan director of the Office of Social Action.
Jesus loved his life of service
“In over 40 years of ministry in our church, it was wonderful for me to be surrounded by such a vast variety of people in ministry,” said Candy Boucher. She leads Adult Faith Formation at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove. “We were together – lay, ordained, vowed religious – for one reason: to get in touch with the JOY of the Gospel. And joy is a key that we often forget. JESUS loved his life of service. Thank God that the Holy Father, Francis, has reminded us of that and he continues to call people forth who can spread that joy.”
Bishops, archbishops and cardinals engaged in our discussions
“I am so happy I took the time to attend all four days of the convocation,” said Dr. Tim Millea of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. He was among 32 members of the national Catholic Medical Association who participated. “From our organization’s perspective, the relationships and friendships we developed with other groups both in and out of the health care world promise to be very important for the CMA. We were most impressed with the sense of purpose and mission displayed by the bishops leading the meeting, and that clearly was shared by the attendees.
“From a personal perspective, I came away with a much clearer and appreciative view of the wonderful diversity of the Catholic Church. The inclusiveness of the church, both in membership and in philosophy, was on full display, from the faces in the crowd to the many languages heard from the ambo during Mass and evening prayer. The unity of purpose and mission was palpable amongst the attendees; the energy and motivation to carry the message home was successfully instilled.
“A particularly important and faith-affirming memory for me was the presence of the cardinals, archbishops and bishops mingling freely with the attendees in the breakout sessions, the hallways, at the meals and all other events. I had conversations with several of them, and found them all very approachable, attentive and clearly interested and engaged in our discussions.
“All in all, this was a landmark event for the Catholic Church in America. The important task of taking this to our home dioceses and parishes cannot be overestimated. The commitment of all of us, from the church leadership to the parishioners, is critically important to a fully successful mission,” Dr. Millea said.