Convocation for Catholic Leaders/National Catholic Black Congress: part World Youth Day for adults, part new Catholic Call to Action

Convocation for Catholic Leaders/National Catholic Black Congress: part World Youth Day for adults, part new Catholic Call to Action

A “Catholic Woodstock” for adults

“It’s kind of like World Youth Day for adults, without the pope” – “conservative” Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop Conley

Despite the expense and lofty rhetoric of the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” sponsored by the U.S. bishops in Orlando, it’s hard right now to assess its long-term impact

Attendees pray during the opening Mass of the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 1 in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations are gathering for the July 1-4 convocation
[“Like World Youth Day for adults”; i.e., a Catholic Woodstock for baby-boomers who wish to reminisce that event?]

John L. Allen Jr.
Excerpted from Crux by CAL-CATHOLIC DAILY
JULY 7, 2017

I’ve not seen the budget for the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders,” a basically unprecedented gathering of almost 3,500 bishops, clergy, religious and laity, including five of the six residential cardinals in the country, hosted by the U.S. bishops and featuring delegations from more than 80 percent of the dioceses in the county and all 50 states, but I do know this: It cannot have been cheap.

We’re talking about renting a Hyatt convention center in Orlando for four days for an awful lot of folks, plus all the expenses of putting such an event together. The logistics were daunting – a member of the bishops’ conference IT team told me they’d brought down 60 laptops and 30 printers, just for conference staff, all of which had to be shipped there and back.

Theoretically, that expense of time and treasure was motivated by the lofty aim of the gathering: “To form leaders who will be equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, while offering fresh insights informed by new research, communications strategies, and successful models.”

After four days, did that actually happen? Time will tell, especially as the delegations who gathered in Orlando return to their dioceses and parishes and try to implement whatever it is they picked up here.

In the meantime, however, there are at least three immediate take-aways that suggest the event was significant, whether or not, over time, it lives up to the elevated billing.

First, I was struck by how basically apolitical the summit was.

For sure, topics with clear political relevance surfaced along the way, from immigration and the LGBTQ community to abortion and euthanasia. However, those were not the dominant notes, which were instead evangelization, mercy, formation in the faith, prayer and the sacraments, and the spiritual life.

No one thundered away from the lectern about political subjects, and during breaks and over lunches and dinners, there frankly wasn’t much buzz about them. You had a much better shot at stirring a good conversation if you asked someone about their parish than their Congressman.

Second, as Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, told Crux in a July 4 interview, this was really the first time the bishops of the United States have brought people together to reflect explicitly on Pope Francis and his vision for the Church.

The touchstone for the convocation was Francis’s 2013 document Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel,” and several American prelates – including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the current president of the bishops’ conference, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, both past presidents – told Crux that one soundbite way of stating the event’s aim is to figure out how to apply Evangelii Gaudium in the American here-and-now.

It remains to be seen what exactly bishops and other Church leaders will take away about the document, but all by itself the fact that the American bishops made a Pope Francis text the basis for one of their highest-profile initiatives in history is probably a helpful corrective to attempts to pit them against the pontiff.

It also may have the effect of undercutting the rather surreal tendency in some limited but vocal quarters to suggest that speaking positively about Pope Francis, on anything, is somehow a hallmark of suspect orthodoxy.

“What I think is the really novel thing about this meeting is that it’s the first time, at least that I’m aware of, that Church leaders in the United States have come together to reflect on Pope Francis,” Tobin said. “This is a noteworthy event.
Evangelii Gaudium, Tobin said, is Pope Francis’s “programmatic statement, and subsequent actions and words of the Roman pontiff have been consistent with that. I’ve been very pleased with the way people [here] have engaged with it.”

Third, while it’s impossible to say what else may result from this meeting, most people with whom I spoke in Orlando seemed to have a blast, and also seemed to feel energized simply by hanging out for four days with other Catholics from all over the country who are as committed as they are.

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, who worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops from 1996 to 2006, probably captured that dimension of the experience best.

“It’s kind of like World Youth Day for adults, without the pope,” Conley said, laughing.

“You’ve got all these Catholics together in one place, you’ve got these great speakers, beautiful liturgies, time for prayer where everybody can be together, a very diverse crowd, and a cross-section of the church in the United States all here because of our Catholic faith,” he said.

Another Catholic “Call to Action”

Engage young adults, support Black Lives Matter, bishops told

Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III of New Orleans speaks during a young adult forum at the National Black Catholic Congress in Orlando, Florida, July 6

Gail DeGeorge | National un-Catholic Reporter | Jul. 7, 2017

ORLANDO, FLA. A standing-room-only crowd of young black Catholics in a frank session that lasted more than two hours told bishops, priests and women religious why they stay in the church, what threatens to drive them away and that they want a stronger voice from church officials for the Black Lives Matter movement.

As the National Black Catholic Congress got underway in Orlando July 6 with more than 2,000 attendees, some 120 participants discussed ways to keep young adult black Catholics engaged in their parishes and the church — and raised criticism of, and an apology for, the church’s silence regarding the movement spawned by the killings of unarmed blacks by police. Among the bishops attending Congress XII was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Discussion centered on key themes:

Why young black adult Catholics stay in the church;
Why they leave;
How they live out their faith;
How to foster more vocations;
The state of race relations in the U.S.

“How do we respond as people of faith to issues of race that have always been going on in society but especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement? And in a lot of the police killings, a lot of people feel that the church has been almost silent in its response,” Stacy Allen, one of the facilitators, said toward the end of the session.

“The church is very vocal on a myriad of issues — immigration for instance — which are important,” Allen said. “But specifically on the issues of race, especially from the perspective of a young adult black Catholic, what should the Catholic response be?”

That prompted Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III of New Orleans to stand. With a bow to those in the room, he said, “To the black youth, I apologize to you as a leader of the church because I feel we have abandoned you in the Black Lives Matter movement and I apologize.

“Partly, I didn’t understand it, and by the time I did understand it, it was too late — the moment was gone,” he said. “I’m very proud of you — you stood up and said enough is enough. As a leader, I want to say that to you — thank you.”

He then went on to tell of challenges in his own journey as a priest and a bishop, his outreach to bring young people, and starting choirs in parishes. “You’re going to struggle and you’re going to persevere,” he said.

He counseled that young black adults reach out to each other and others within their parishes and church communities.

“No one knows how to best minister to you as young people — we’re all learning this together,” he said. “One of the reasons we have faltered when it comes to vocations from our community because when it comes to being church, we just don’t have the community working at it together and that’s the failure.”

Many at the session spoke of the need to address a lack of programs for young adults and meaningful engagement and leadership opportunities within parishes and the larger church. Young adults want more than to be tapped to set up tables, take out trash, run kids’ programs and generally do things that older parishioners don’t want to do, participants said.

Too many parishes have youth programs that end at high school — and nothing for those who come back after college with talents and skills and a willingness to get involved, participants said. It’s particularly difficult for young black Catholics not in large metropolitan areas like Chicago, Atlanta or Washington with black churches.

“People leave because there’s just no community,” said one young woman from Lansing, Michigan.

While a participant from New Orleans said the reason she stays Catholic is the strength of her parish community, she has encountered resistance in other parishes. “One reason young adults are leaving is that sometimes it feels like the church does not want us,” she said.

She says she’s tried to volunteer and has been told “no because of age, or no because they don’t say it, but because I’m a young adult, and they think I’m too young to know about that, or no because that’s ‘too black’ and that might be fine for your church in New Orleans but not here,” she said.

The rejection is like “asking for a hug and someone is crossing their arms,” she said, recounting how she and a young Asian woman were “shut down” in a parish in San Francisco when trying to introduce new programs. “That’s why people leave, because they don’t feel wanted. And if you don’t feel wanted, you leave.”

Applause, laughter and murmurs of recognition swept through the room as participants from New York, California, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere shared their experiences and ideas.

“We as young adults don’t want programs, we want a relationship,” said a participant. “We don’t want things to do — we have enough to do. We want a place to belong. Successful young adult ministries are where they feel invested to make change within their parishes.”

One mistake is to mix up “youth” programs with “young adult” programs without recognizing the huge differences between them, some participants noted. One mentioned having a young adult “meet and greet” to get ideas for programs they want — and then implementing them.

Another mentioned having eucharistic adoration on Monday evenings rather than Fridays to not interfere with happy hour. One priest mentioned having the sacrament of reconciliation available on Sundays when people are already at church.

Participants from Nigeria and other African nations shared their experiences of encountering cultural differences assimilating into U.S. parishes, the lack of welcome, and some of the strong communal faith traditions they know from their homelands.

“You feel like you don’t belong,” said one participant. “It is hard as an African to belong to the Catholic Church in the United States.”

Programs focused on prayer and spiritual, not just social, needs are important, participants said.

In an interview afterward, Allen, who is from the Galveston-Houston Diocese, expanded on the issue of race relations and the lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement by the church.

“It’s been painful that a faith that I love so much and I dedicate quite a lot of time to feels like it hasn’t seen my own humanity, hasn’t seen my own pain,” said Allen, who is an attorney and serves in her parish counsel, youth ministry and catechism programs.

“As someone who mentors young people too, I see those stories and I worry about if they’re going to be the next hashtag. So with something so dominating the news cycle, and I think the American psyche, for our church to be so silent — it just questions whether people like me even matter — if we are even seen within the faith and if we belong,” Allen said.

“Because of my faith and the holy Eucharist, there’s no way I am going to leave, but I wish that the church would on a national level create a think tank or a group that really tries to address black Catholics in the church and what is our space.”

Cheri in an interview said bishops haven’t been more supportive because they haven’t really understood the Black Lives Matter movement, relying more on media reports than talking with black people within their dioceses.

“One of the primary teachings of the church is the value of human life and human dignity, and if Black Lives Matter is not a matter of human dignity, something is wrong,” he said.

“We [bishops] speak out for many things and we stand for many things and I think we stand for life. I’m not saying I’m against police — it’s not a question of that, it’s not a question of for and against. It’s about life at all levels and all times,” he said.

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4 comments on “Convocation for Catholic Leaders/National Catholic Black Congress: part World Youth Day for adults, part new Catholic Call to Action

  1. “It’s kind of like World Youth Day for adults, without the pope,” Conley said, laughing.

    “You’ve got all these Catholics together in one place, you’ve got these great speakers, beautiful liturgies, time for prayer where everybody can be together, a very diverse crowd, and a cross-section of the church in the United States all here because of our Catholic faith,” he said.

    Beautiful liturgies? If John Allen was happy, the liturgies weren’t likely TLM. Bp. Conley is a disappointment. (Does he have the FSSP reading Pope Francis’ evil documents?) Does he know how Voris and others were treated at the Convocation? Do they not count as Catholics worthy of being heard?

    • “[B]eautiful liturgies” was said by Bishop Conley. They were not TLM but were not offensive, as have been some at other official Catholic gatherings such as the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference (REC) or the real World Youth Day. They were EWTN-ish.

      • Copyright that term “EWTN-ish”, Tom.

        It works and it was yours. You could make a fortune!

        • While I may have thought of EWTN-ish for that occasion, I checked Google and found that others have also used it.

          Nonetheless, I say, “Oh EWTN-ish, how many sins are committed in thy name!” based on someone or other (Shakespeare? I can’t confirm that on the Internet) saying, “Oh ——- [uncertain what it is; some say ‘liberty’; others say other things], how many sins [or crimes] are committed in thy name!”

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