Twenty diocesan Catholics to represent Diocese of Lincoln at Florida event
Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - In order to best address the challenges of evangelization in the culture today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is convening a special gathering of delegates from dioceses and Catholic organizations in Orlando, Fla. July 1-4.
More than 3,000 Catholic leaders — bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople — are expected to attend the gathering, which is titled, “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”
The U.S. bishops have not convened a convocation like this since 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I.
At that event, the bishops met with Catholic leaders to plan how to meet social needs emerging from the war. One result was the creation of the National Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner to today’s USCCB.
The general focus of the 2017 convocation will be to explore ways the Holy Father’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) applies in the United States. The convocation will focus on forming missionary disciples to, as the USCCB announced, “animate the Church and engage the culture.”
Convocation planner Jonathan Reyes, who serves as executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, told Catholic News Service the convocation will be a chance for Catholics to unify in Christ.
“This is centered, as Pope Francis said again and again, in the encounter with Jesus Christ,” Reyes stressed. “That’s what holds us together.”
Reyes said that in addition to encountering Christ and praying together, the delegates will “talk very practically about what are the challenges, what does it mean to be missionary disciples at this moment and how do we go out and do it.”
To represent the Diocese of Lincoln at this historic event, Bishop James Conley has selected a diverse group of delegates.
“It has been a privilege to help Bishop Conley organize the Lincoln diocesan delegation,” said JD Flynn, special assistant to the bishop.
He noted that the bishop chose Catholics from across the diocese that represent many different ages and stages of life, as well as various ministries, apostolates, and other organizations.
“The delegation is a dynamic and talented group of leaders,” Flynn said. “Some are priests and religious, some are laity. Some work for the Church, some work in the world. We have older people, younger people, those who work with the poor, who work in our schools, who work with Hispanics, and who work with young people.”
Claire Pohlen of St. Teresa Parish in Lincoln, who is executive assistant for the Catholic Foundation of Southern Nebraska, is one of Bishop Conley’s delegates. She will also coordinate the logistical arrangements for all those attending the convocation from the Lincoln Diocese.
“I was very honored and humbled to be asked,” she said. “I am hopeful that by participating in the convocation, delegation members can return to their dioceses with new ideas and a renewed desire to spread the joy of the Gospel through word and deed.”
When the delegates gather in Orlando, they will have multiple opportunities to share ideas and learn from other Catholic leaders across the country. They will also build a network with other leaders to help continue the work of the New Evangelization.
“The New Evangelization is the project of helping Catholics to know the Lord more deeply, and to live in the truth and freedom of the Gospel,” Flynn explained.
While it can be easy to get bogged down in social and political topics that sometimes set Catholic believers at odds with the culture, he said the key is to focus on Jesus, not the issues.
“Every heart is made for communion with God, and longing for communion with God,” Flynn reasoned. “When you know the Lord, and his mercy, and his love, the truth becomes much easier to grasp and to live. The Church exists to foster communion with Jesus Christ—through the sacramental life, through her teaching and witness, through works of mercy and apostolate.”
He added, “Since so many Catholics do not practice the faith, we have a lot of work to do.”
“I am looking forward to learning from others who share similar ministry interests as I do, such as engaging young people in parish life,” Pohlen said.
Though the convocation is an invitation-only event, laypersons, priests and religious at home can follow along by watching various sessions on EWTN or live-streamed sessions on the USCCB website.
“I hope that those who are not attending will watch the sessions that are broadcast,” Flynn said. “There is a lot for all of us to learn.”
He reiterated that the work of the New Evangelization is for all Catholics, not just those who have an “official” role on behalf of the Church.
“One of the important things to realize about the convocation is that it is designed to remind all Catholics that we each have responsibility for the mission of the Gospel,” Flynn said. “Each one of us has to be a missionary. And that means we should use our creativity, our gifts, our opportunities, and our experience to find areas where we can proclaim the Gospel—as individuals, as families, and as parish communities.
There is no way to anticipate how the convocation will impact the diocese, the nation or the world, but as Flynn said, “We know that God is moving, always, in our diocese, and we look forward to seeing how God will continue to move, especially through this opportunity for communion with Catholic leaders from across the United States.”