The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: an historic moment of grace

August 6, 2017

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

After years of planning, more than 3,500 Catholics from across the United States gathered in Orlando from July 1-4 for an historic event. As an initiative of the American bishops, “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” brought together bishop-led delegations from around the country as well as other Catholic apostolates and movements to pray, reflect and engage in a crucial dialogue about the significant challenges and opportunities offered to the Church at this moment in our history.

Our archdiocesan delegation consisted of 14 dedicated participants who engaged with fellow Catholics by sharing perspectives, experiences and aspirations, and learning from each other.

The unique impetus for this event came from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” or the “Joy of the Gospel.” In the “Joy of the Gospel,” the Holy Father summons all the baptized to embrace our role as missionary disciples who have been touched and transformed by our encounter with Jesus Christ.

Moved by that joyful encounter, we are sent on mission to share that joy with others. The whole Church is called to be in a permanent state of mission. This summons challenges the Church and all its institutions and members to move from maintenance to mission. Just continuing to do what we have been doing because “we have always done it this way” is not an adequate pastoral plan.

Since the day of Pentecost we have been a missionary Church. Our mission is to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With a special urgency, Pope Francis draws our attention to the peripheries, not just as a geographical place, but especially to those persons in our lives, in our communities and in our church who are on the existential margins and who are often overlooked and forgotten.

During the convocation, we spent a good deal of time examining the landscape of our nation. What are those peripheries? How is the Church present there? What is working? In addition to daily keynote presentations from some of the leading Catholic voices in America, there were dozens of breakout sessions staffed by outstanding experts on a variety of topics to engage participants. Much of the real benefit of the convocation came through the interaction among delegates that took place spontaneously between sessions, during meals and in casual conversations around topics of mutual interest.

Certainly one of the most important aspects of this convocation was the sacred liturgy. Great care was taken in the preparation for divine worship: the beauty of the music, the visual arts and experience of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and especially in the celebration of the Mass. There was a beautiful Eucharistic Procession. There were opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Marian devotion, Eucharistic adoration, and praise and worship.

Honestly, the convocation far exceeded my hopes and expectations. My expectations admittedly were rather modest since we had never attempted such an event before. One of the encouraging fruits of the convocation for me and for many of the members of our delegation was a clear affirmation that many of the initiatives that we have undertaken in the past few years align well with where the Spirit is guiding the Church in our time.

We will continue to reflect on the fruits of the convocation so that we can share what we have received. In the weeks ahead, members of our archdiocesan delegation will be working to articulate the graces and insights of the Convocation of Catholic Leaders so that they can be incorporated into our pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

Come Holy Spirit!