There’s something new about the American Church since last summer. In dioceses, movements and Catholic media everywhere a new phrase is heard, “being missionary disciples.” Some are calling it a springtime of American Evangelization.
In 2013, Pope Francis set the Church in motion, building on everything that his papal predecessors taught us, in his encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium. It broke new ground by challenging the entire Church to get out of our comfort zones and into the adventure of the New Evangelization:
“The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.”
–Evangelii Gaudium 24.
At the same time that Pope Francis wrote this encyclical, the bishops in the United States were starting to plan something big- a moment to bring the whole Church in America together, to align in the mission. The release of Evangelii Gaudium provided the mandate and theme for this event, which would become the 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders.
After 6 years of planning with exceptional attention to quality and detail, leadership teams from all dioceses and many orders and movements in the American Church were convened to come together in Orlando. 80% of dioceses responded to the call and sent their leadership teams, as well as many movements, including Regnum Christi.
In an intense 4 days, the bishops gave talks that affirmed the Faith of the Church and led plenary and breakout sessions that looked at the spiritual landscape of the country, the most pressing ‘peripheries’ and needs in the Church, and the call to be and to form Missionary Disciples.
Six Cardinals, 145 bishops and 3500 priests, religious and laity participated in this unprecedented event. From the opening Mass with Cardinal Timothy Dolan to the closing Mass with Cardinal Daniel Dinardo, the entire event had a unified voice calling the Church to holiness, and to be Missionary Disciples.
The communion and enthusiasm were like what one would imagine the upper room at Pentecost to have been like.
The three mandates given to the Church were to live:
- Missionary Conversion
- The Art of Accompaniment
- Spiritual Leadership
The question is, a year later, is it being lived?
The action being taken in many dioceses says yes.
“The Archdiocese of Washington Parish Evangelization Grants support parishes in implementing the new evangelization through creative, impactful, and invitational evangelization efforts. Parish grant projects and initiatives also provide examples of best practices that will be shared across the Archdiocese of Washington.”
Many dioceses and parishes are moving from maintenance mode to missionary mode by creating the new role of “Director of Evangelization.”
In a June 2018 interview with CBN news that had the headline of How the Catholic Church Embraces the New Evangelization, Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond said, “the New Evangelization involves reflecting Christ’s presence by what we say, and what we do, by the living of our faith. Rather than being a new project or program, the New Evangelization is a lens through which we see everything we do.”
The Regnum Christi members who were at the convocation and heard this three-fold madate from our shepherds related how their hearts really resonated with this call. Tot hem, so much of what God has been renewing and maturing in Regnum Christi and in their mission answers the request that the Church is making right now
Pope Francis, and the bishops, asked us not to be happy with status quo activity. They urged us to be renewed, constantly in a state of conversion and mission that is always going deeper and finding new ways to break through the world around us with missionary joy.
Regnum Christi members took this to heart, their first task being to renew their conversion, to renew their joy. During the past year they held their Territoral and General Assemblies, and continued deeper into their conversion and transformation as missionary disciples, or apostles. One member shared how God has been helping them respond tot he Church’s call, “By the grace of God, we HAVE been renewing- and we have learned how powerful renewal can be. We are not the same as we were- we are more the Movement that God has called us to be, and he has prepared us for this mission of bringing joy to a world that so desperately lacks it. Missionaries need conversion,too. And we are missionaries in this country that the bishops have called us to go out into.“
As individuals and as a movement, Regnum Christi is committed to continuing on thier path of deeper conversion, getting ever closer to Christ, letting him transform and send them out in His name.
The theme of accompaniment was a cornerstone at the convocation. Conversions happen when people are accompanied. A program or an event can educate or inspire, but conversion happens when missionary disciples walk with people on their Emmaus Road, letting Christ make their hearts burn within them.
Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium 169:
In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.
This accompaniment, as the Holy Father explains, leads others closer to God as “a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.” Missionary discipleship demands “drawing nearer to others,” including drawing “near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ.”
The convocation reminded the Church that as missionary disciples, Catholic leaders are not just managers or administrators but spiritual leaders who love Jesus Christ, are faithful to the mission of the Church, and can inspire others by being responsive to the vocation, gifts, and charisms that have been given to them by the Lord. Bishop Barron of Los Angeles, and Pat Lencioni of the Amazing Parish program talked about Catholic leadership. Bishop Barron spoke about 3 Obstacles to Evangelization and 3 Opportunities, and Pat Lencioni spoke about Catholic leaders as Spirit-filled Evangelizers Equipped for Excellence.
A year later, the Church is inviting us to revisit and re-create the experience of the convocation in our hearts, parishes and communities. Many dioceses, like are taking up that call, using the resources the USCCB is providing,
“The success of the Convocation is not what happened in July 2017, but what happens next – in the days, weeks, months, and years beyond this historic gathering to advance a next chapter of evangelization and the formation of missionary disciples across the United States.
The goal of the Convocation was for Catholic leaders to be inspired by the joy of the Gospel, fueled by Pope Francis’ call in Evangelii Gaudium, and to be sent out in their dioceses, parishes, apostolates, movements, and organizations to form missionary disciples.”
Consider hosting a similar event at your parish, diocese, or organization. You can follow the same format as the Convocation, or adapt it to your needs. Evangelii Gaudium is a rich resource for discussion. Be sure to include sufficient time for liturgy and other moments of prayer. One format would be as follows:
- Celebrate your unity in the joy of the Gospel
- Report and reflect on the landscape of your area
- Remind leaders of the call to missionary discipleship and evangelization
- Look to the peripheries of the community
- Explore practical strategies, possibly inviting experts
- Chart out concrete plans for taking the next step in evangelization
- Reflect on the calling to be “Spirit-filled evangelizers” and pray for the grace to move forward
The videos of all the Plenary talks from the 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders can be found here, and the book that has all of the take-aways and practical formation from the convocation, Living as Missionary Disciples, is a must read for all American Catholics today.