A national conversation

June 11, 2017

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

1917 was a momentous year in many ways. The world was already at war and the United States was entering the fray in the conflict that we know today as World War I. There was revolution in Russia and atheistic communism was gaining a foothold in that proud country. Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal, urging them to pray the Rosary for conversion and for peace.

In August, 1917, American bishops and representatives of 68 dioceses, 27 Catholic organizations and the Catholic press met in Washington, D.C. to coordinate their efforts in response to the considerable challenges of those times. That meeting in Washington eventually resulted in the organization that we know as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

As they did 100 years ago, the bishops of the United States are now inviting many Catholic leaders, organizations and apostolates to participate in an event called the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

The “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” will be held in Orlando from July 1-4. Bishops from across the United States will be bringing delegations to reflect together on Pope Francis’s call to missionary discipleship as laid out in his foundational apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (the Joy of the Gospel).

In addition to the 3,000 leaders who will travel to Orlando to participate as part of a delegation or as members of an invited apostolate or movement, even more Catholic leaders will be following the convocation events through streaming and engaging in conversations digitally through social media.

In the “Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis reminds us that “The Gospel joy that enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy” (EG 21). Each of us are called to missionary discipleship and to witness Christ to the world. The pope calls us to a pastoral and missionary conversion that cannot leave things as they presently are. He summons the Church from maintenance to mission.

“Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities” (EG 33).

As 1917 was a tumultuous year, 2017 is witnessing seismic changes as well. There are massive cultural and ethnic shifts affecting the Catholic population of the United States. The phenomena of globalization and instantaneous communication present both challenges and opportunities.

Changing demographics and massive movements of people within our own country and around the world are resulting in more and more people who are excluded, invisible or living on the peripheries of society. A “throw away culture” that treats people as things or commodities has eroded respect for life and the dignity of human persons.

These are just some of the elements of the changing landscape that we will identify and reflect upon as part of the process at the convocation. Of course, participants will strategize new pastoral responses to these challenges as well.
I will be leading a delegation of more than a dozen members of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. We will be sharing some of what we have been learning from our own discernment and pastoral planning with the other participants from around the country.

One of the desired outcomes is that members of each local team will learn from one another and the many other delegations, and return enriched and prepared to respond more effectively to the invitation to live the joy of the Gospel and missionary discipleship in the United States today.

Having just celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost, I am especially mindful that the Holy Spirit will be the chief agent of a successful convocation. The days of the convocation will be structured to provide ample time for prayer, adoration, Mass and opportunities for reflection and dialog so that the Holy Spirit can guide the process.

Please pray for the success of this historic event and for our archdiocesan delegation.

Prayer for the 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders
O Holy Spirit, you who first enkindled in our hearts the joy of the Gospel, renew that same joy in those who are preparing for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders.

Enflame the hearts of our bishops and their diocesan delegations; leaders of national organizations and movements; clergy, religious and laity; all who make this event possible; and Catholic leaders across the United States.

Move us to welcome the word of life in the depths of our hearts and respond to the call of missionary discipleship.

O Holy Spirit, transform our hearts and enable us to enter into the perfect communion that you share with the Father and the Son.

Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.