By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer
A delegation from the Diocese of Allentown was among the approximately 3,500 delegates from across the country attending the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders (CCL): The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida.
Bishop-elect Alfred Schlert attended, as well as: Mary Fran Hartigan, secretary of the diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization; Paul Acampora, secretary of the diocesan Secretariat for Stewardship and Development; and Bernarda Liriano, director of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Affairs.
Also: Father Keith Mathur, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship and director of the diocesan Office of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA); Father Mark Searles, chaplain of Allentown Central Catholic High School (ACCHS); and seminarian Matthew Kuna, who is beginning his second pre-theology year at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia.
“A big part of the reason behind this promising convocation, folks, is that we, your pastors, believe with Pope Francis, that a renewal of joy is essential for a deepening of Catholic vitality and confidence today,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told delegates as homilist of the July 1 opening Mass.
“We can’t become, in the folksy term of Pope Francis, ‘a church of sourpusses,’” Cardinal Dolan said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) convened the unprecedented gathering of key leaders from dioceses and Catholic organizations across the country to assess the challenges and opportunities of our time, particularly in the context of the church in the United States.
This has been an ongoing initiative of the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person. The gathering assembled Catholic leaders for a strategic conversation, under the leadership of the bishops, on forming missionary disciples to animate the church and engage the culture.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the convocation formed leaders who were equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, while offering fresh insights informed by new research, communications strategies and successful models.
The convocation was an invitation-only event.
Bishop-elect Alfred Schlert
“To be present in Orlando for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders was a broadening experience for me and for our diocesan representatives,” said Bishop-elect Schlert. “We saw that the Diocese of Allentown is already doing many of the efforts recommended. We also heard of ways that can allow us to cultivate more leadership in the church, especially among the young men and women of our diocese.
“We learned that there are many ways to accompany and reach out to those disheartened and marginalized in the church. This accompaniment must always be grounded in teaching the truths of faith and morals which lead to conversion for the good of the person’s soul.”
Mary Fran Hartigan
“Attending the convocation with over 3,500 fellow Catholic leaders from around the country was a great experience,” said Hartigan.
“The plenary sessions charted a course for the church by presenting the current landscape and mission field, calling us to missionary discipleship as Pope Francis has spoken about in ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ and challenged us to go forth to the peripheries to go beyond our own comfort zone to spread the Gospel message.
“None of this is possible, though, unless we invite the Holy Spirit to guide our efforts, guide our diocese as we become spirit-filled evangelizers.”
Hartigan said she attended several breakout sessions that went into more detail about the rise of the “nones” – people with no religious affiliation, the fastest-growing group that continues to rise – and understanding inactive and disconnected Catholics.
“The sessions provided a vehicle to discuss ideas on how to engage them in our ministry that I will be sharing with the staff of the Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization. The goal for us will be to find new ways of reaching out to welcome back Catholics in our diocese, especially young adults, to active participation.”
“The Convocation of Catholic Leaders was a special opportunity for diocesan delegates from around the country. Together, we shared hopes, prayers, challenges and solutions for making our parishes and ministries as successful as possible,” said Acampora.
“It was very inspiring to hear lay volunteers, clergy, bishops and cardinals all agree that the most important part of our Catholic work and faith is the joy of the Gospel.”
“The convocation was a very uplifting experience for me. It was beautiful to see the ethnic diversity of our Catholic Church and the splendor that makes us all one body in Christ despite our origins,” said Liriano.
“It was a fantastic experience to see so many people gathered – especially young people – with so much thirst to serve God’s people and the joyful spirit throughout the convocation, despite the busy but productive schedule.
“The Convocation of Catholic Leaders was refreshing and served as reaffirmation to me that the work we do as a ministry in the diocese is founded on solid soil.
“Having attended motivates me to continue to accompany our people and to listen to their needs; to strive each and every day to be a bridge in our parishes to create community among the diversity.”
Father Keith Mathur
“The Convocation of Catholic Leaders was a unique opportunity for the Allentown delegation to interact with 3,500 Catholics from across the nation. Dynamic speakers and gifted facilitators led the four-day reflection on ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ in America,” said Father Mathur.
“The Office of Divine Worship will continue to encourage both the faithful of the diocese and those who have fallen away from the practice of the faith to invite Jesus into their lives even more deeply through a renewed appreciation and understanding of the Catholic Mass and the sacramental life of the church.”
Father Mark Searles
“The convocation was a blessed opportunity to sit at a table with both experts and everyday leaders in the church from all 50 states to have an honest and fruitful conversation about our successes and our challenges in regard to evangelization,” said Father Searles.
“Our delegation from the Diocese of Allentown split up to cover as many topics and breakout sessions as possible, so I was blessed to attend several sessions on evangelization efforts with youth and young adults, in addition to a great session on using social media to reach even those who no longer walk through our doors.
“Despite the challenges in the church both in the United States and the world today, the convocation was a helpful reminder that the message of the Gospel is also fresh and new.
“We should never underestimate the powerful joy of encountering Christ in both his word and sacraments, and we must be creative in sharing our own joyful encounter with every soul that God has placed in our midst.
“There are more and more people in the world who are hungry for this encounter, so every one of us must consider ourselves missionary disciples guided by the Holy Spirit into the fields where the harvest is abundant.”
“This convocation was a unique event to reflect on the church’s mission of evangelization,” said Kuna. “As a seminarian for the diocese, it was a great opportunity for me to learn from experienced priests, religious men and women, and lay parish ministers who dedicate their lives to building up the Kingdom of God in their home dioceses – especially among young people.
“I did not see a church ‘of the past’ huddled at this convocation … instead, I witnessed a church that has always been alive and ready to embrace the challenges ahead to bring people closer to the Gospel.”