Just eight months into his papacy, Pope Francis released the extraordinary apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”). His desire was to “encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come,” he wrote.
It’s a striking document, full of challenges and a healthy dose of what we have come to recognize as Pope Francis’ “straight talk,” including phrases like, “there are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” and his call for the Church to be one that “goes forth” to the peripheries. Among its practical applications is his encouraging and straightforward message to those who work in the Church, to whom he points to the need for increased “missionary enthusiasm.”
Which brings us to this summer. In order to put some of Pope Francis’ ideas and recommendations from the document into practice, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is hosting a “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” in Orlando, Florida, this July 1-4. The event, which is subtitled “The Joy of the Gospel in America,” is inspired by Evangelii Gaudium. According to organizers, it is an “unprecedented moment of national unity” that will engage Catholic leaders “in dialogue and conversation around Pope Francis’ radical call to be and to form missionary disciples.”
Each of the four days of the conference centers on a theme: national unity, landscape and renewal, work and witness, and a spirit of mission. Keynote speakers range from U.S. Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, and Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, to various bishops and archbishops.
The convocation is an invitation-only event, meaning that those who will be attending have been hand-picked by their diocesan representatives to participate. For those not attending, let us join in solidarity of prayer for this event, that it may help renew the Church in the United States by filling its leaders with missionary zeal.
The bishops’ conference offers this prayer: “O Holy Spirit, you who first enkindled in our hearts the joy of the Gospel, renew that same joy in those who are preparing for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. Enflame the hearts of our bishops and their diocesan delegations; leaders of national organizations and movements; clergy, religious and laity; all who make this event possible; and Catholic leaders across the United States. Move us to welcome the word of life in the depths of our hearts and respond to the call of missionary discipleship. O Holy Spirit, transform our hearts and enable us to enter into the perfect communion that you share with the Father and the Son. Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us. Amen.”