It’s been nearly four years since Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel.” But what does it look like to truly live out the Joy of the Gospel in the U.S.?
That’s the question behind an unprecedented gathering of Catholic leaders from around the country this summer.
On the weekend of July 4th, hundreds of bishops will join with thousands of Catholic leaders from around the country to participate in “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” a four-day conference to share experiences about the Church engaging with modern U.S. culture.
“Never before has such a large and diverse group assembled under the guidance of the bishops,” said Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Speaking to his brother bishops in a June 15 talk, he stressed, “This is truly unlike any other meeting.”
Dr. Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, said in an interview with Register Radio that the Church finds herself in a unique moment, which provides a wealth of opportunities for growth and fruit from this convocation.
“I think it’s the kind of moment the Holy Spirit uses for the Church, to open the Church up to ideas and opportunities,” Reyes said. “It’s about an opportunity that we think the Lord has given, that we believe the Lord has given and that we have to respond to.”
The Convocation of Catholic Leaders will take place July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, and will bring together a broad swath of bishops, clergy and lay Catholic leaders from around the country.
Focusing on what it means to be a Catholic in the United States, delegations from 155 dioceses and roughly 200 Catholic organizations will be in attendance, along with 160 bishops. Nearly 4,000 people of all ages, backgrounds, and ministerial focuses are expected to attend.
Bishop Malone explained the major role the bishops have played in organizing the event. “It had to be led by us, the bishops. It had to leverage our best research strategy and people.”
“And,” Bishop Malone continued, “it had to be about forming missionary disciples.”
The bishops will be leading each of the panel discussions, round table conversations, liturgies and speeches at the event. Topics will range from the Church and politics, youth evangelization, reaching to the peripheries, family dynamics, technology, life issues, disabilities, application of the Church’s social magisterium and more.
Dr. Reyes explained that the strength of the convocation will be found in the participants’ broad range of expertise, geography and background.
“What happens is that conversation evolves. People get to trust each other. What we’re doing is bringing in people from completely different backgrounds. We’ve got college presidents, we’ve got business leaders, we’ve got religious, we’ve got people working the front lines in some of the most difficult socioeconomic situations in this country. We’ve got people who’ve been in basically every aspect of the Church’s ministry but also in worldly life, just doing things, because they’re essential to effective evangelization,” he told Register Radio.
Many of these people would not have any other chance to share their expertise with one another, yet what the bishops are doing is “trying to provide an opportunity for a trusting, balanced conversation because it’s really key to us having a way forward together as a Church,” he continued.
Another key aspect of the convocation, Reyes added, is the bishops’ focus on Evangelii Gaudium’s message of missionary discipleship and bringing the message of the Gospel to new, unprecedented challenges.
“This is Pope Francis’s whole point: it’s the laity out there who are going to change the culture in their conversations with those around them,” Reyes said. “And we need the laity, we need the priests, we need the Church unified proclaiming the Gospel and inviting people to encounter Jesus Christ. The good news is that if we do that, the Gospel works.”
Most of all, however, Reyes said he is excited to see what comes after the convocation. “Everyone is going to come back with key insights. You just can’t help it.”
Often, Reyes offered, “we don’t see enough the great things the Holy Spirit is doing.” He noted that while attention is often placed on the challenges of the 21st Century, there are many different movements, ministries and local examples of life sprouting within the Church that others may not see.
“There’s light all over the place. The Gospel is not failing. I think the Church would benefit from seeing this.”