In 2011 I made the case to my boss to attend World Youth Day in Madrid. I was aging out fast, and I wanted to get a firsthand experience of just what it was all about. I spent my days interviewing and my nights writing, and what I came away with was a sense of great fellowship, of an “we’re-all-in-this-together-proud-to-be-Catholic-ness.” It was beautiful, inspiring and encouraging.
I was reminded of this when reading a Crux article on the recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, which gathered 3,500 Catholics in early July. Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, said the convocation was “kind of like World Youth Day for adults, without the pope.”
Bishop Conley continued: “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. “I think for a lot of our lay faithful, they’ve never been in a place like this before with so many other Catholics, and it sort of recharges their batteries.”
This could not be more accurate. Even watching from a distance, following the convocation on social media, video streams and TV, I could sense the atmosphere of fellowship and the delight at the participants of being somewhere ... comfortable. Where they were not, for once, the odd-man-out, but rather part of a larger team of believers that belonged.
As our culture has become more devoid of faith, such opportunities are more scarce. In days gone by, religion was the backbone of society and family life. Now, bringing up the topic of faith in public is like wading into hostile territory. So many claim that the Church is ignorant, outdated and chauvinistic. Or, sadly, that it’s full of pedophiles. So many objections exist — some, unfortunately, understandable — and we’ve all heard them. Committed Catholics, especially those in ministerial or leadership positions, need the gift of time together to be reminded that they are not alone in living out the mission of Christ on earth.
In addition to soul-soothing fellowship, Catholic leaders desperately are in need of formation in the Faith. Keynote speakers, like Bishop Robert E. Barron, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop José H. Gomez and Hosffman Ospino, were able to not only motivate but educate those gathered.
It is not easy to put on a national convention, and this one was years in the making. But one of the fruits could be similar gatherings on a smaller, regional — or even diocesan — scale. Fellowship and formation even could become twin pillars of focus in parish life to help give Catholics the boost they need to be in the world today.
The Convocation of Catholic Leaders was a beautiful gift to the Church. May we all be inspired to continue to live and profess our faith proudly and with joy as a result.