USCCB draws over 3,500 Catholic leaders to “once-in-a-lifetime” event

by Paul Braun | New Earth

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Thirteen attendees made up the Fargo Diocese delegation to the USCCB’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders event July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla. (New Earth)

His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, probably put it best when he exclaimed, “I don’t think we’ve ever had one that’s the equivalent of this.” Cardinal Dolan was describing the immense turn-out and purpose for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders held July 1–4 in Orlando Fla.

The Convocation drew over 3,500 Catholic leaders, including five of the six-seated Cardinals in the United States, the Vatican’s Papal Nuncio to the United States, 160 bishops, over 350 priests, and about 3,000 deacons, religious, and lay-leaders of dioceses and Catholic organizations from each of the 50 states. Among those attending was Bishop John Folda of the Diocese of Fargo, who brought with him 12 diocesan office directors, pastors and other leaders of Catholic organizations in North Dakota.

The purpose of the Convocation was to re-emphasize the tenets in Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” or, “The Joy of the Gospel,” as well as chart a course for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States. In an exclusive interview with New Earth, Cardinal Dolan expressed his hopes for the convocation’s purpose.

“This is a sensitivity of pastors saying ‘you know what, this could be a booster shot to the Catholic community in the United States,’” said Cardinal Dolan. “If we would come together and show people that this Catholic community is one, they are people of joy, their mission is seeking discipleship, and let’s get them aboard, we’ll learn from one another and maybe it will become a regular thing every four or five years.”

John Allen, Editor of CRUX, a Catholic News Service that reports on the Vatican and Church issues, summed up the Convocation in broader terms, claiming it sent a strong message all across the world. “It (the Convocation) provided a less political image of Catholicism, ratified the bishops’ commitment to Pope Francis, and delivered a positive experience of the Church to almost 3,500 people.”

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Bishop John Folda prepares to venerate the altar at the closing Mass for the convocation. Bishop Folda participated with 160 of his brother bishops and over 350 priests and deacons. (Paul Braun/New Earth)

Part of that positive experience centered on the call of Pope Francis to go out to the peripheries, outside the boundaries of ourselves, to minister and evangelize. The Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, spoke to the Convocation about the pope’s call to new evangelization. Anderson told New Earth that Catholics need to be energized and to reach out to those not only half-way across the world, but also across the street.

“The main point of what the pope is saying is we have to be personally involved,” said Anderson. “We have to commit ourselves personally to whomever we can see is hurting and needs our help. It could be in a corporal way or maybe in a spiritual way, but we need to be brothers and sisters to our brothers and sisters.”

New evangelization today is different than it was, according to Cardinal Dolan. He says Pope John Paul II maintained that there are different challenges now because new evangelization doesn’t mean just going to people who have never heard the saving message of Jesus Christ. “Even if they have heard it, it’s becoming a bit lethargic,” says Cardinal Dolan. “So we have to rekindle the faith in those who are maybe nominally Catholic but need to become really Catholic.”

How does this affect the faithful in Eastern North Dakota? Bishop Folda says there are all kinds of challenges in our Church and especially in our own diocese and our parishes, but with every challenge there are many opportunities as well.

“What we will try to do is identify some of those challenges,” says Bishop Folda. “But we also must grab on to the opportunities and see what steps we can take to really engage more and more people into the life of the faith that we enjoy, and that brings us so much joy. We want to make sure that everyone has the chance that we have to live in the joy of the gospel; to live in the faith of Jesus Christ that we received.”

Bishop Folda says he feels the Convocation will help to refocus and recapture a sense of energy, commitment and joy of sharing the faith in our own diocese. But, on a larger scale, the Convocation will help the faithful to get out into the world and to share the good news; to really take off with the message Pope Francis has given us that we are all called to be missionary disciples.

The Convocation’s sending message was clear; it’s time to roll up our sleeves as Catholics and get to work.