Orlando convocation called ‘a journey’ for US church

By Laura Dodson 
Catholic News Service

Theirs was a monumental responsibility: shepherding lay leaders, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, religious, deacons, musicians, event staff and a legion of volunteers at the historic “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 1–4 in Orlando.
“This convocation is a journey, and there will be three of us here to guide you through the next four days,” said Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas, one of the event’s emcees.
The consistent presence — on stage and off — of Bishop Burns, along with emcee Julianne Stanz, director of new evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and moderator Gloria Purvis, co-host of “Morning Glory” on EWTN Radio, kept the entire program flowing smoothly despite any behind-the-scenes hiccups.
Sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the convocation brought together more than 3,100 lay and religious leaders from 160 dioceses and 185 national organizations. They gathered to explore the current challenges and strengths of the church and its evangelization efforts.
Bishop John G. Noonan of Orlando, host of the convocation, joked that when New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, an event chairman, “called me five years ago to tell me he’d like to come to Orlando in July — he didn’t tell me how many he had invited!”
“Welcome as we celebrate the joy of the Gospel!” Bishop Noonan told the delegates.
“All the good, dedicated, committed lay faithful present truly touched me,” Bishop Burns said in an interview for Catholic News Service, “especially knowing that they are the Catholic leaders in their dioceses and Catholic organizations.”
“It was powerful to see them engaged in conversation on how we can be missionary disciples,” he said. “In addition, seeing the authentic faith of every person on stage and how they shared it so honestly. It was incarnational — we definitely encountered the word made flesh.”
Austin Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel Garcia attended the convocation along with 20 people from the Austin Diocese representing a variety of ministries. 
Bishop Vásquez said the convocation was “truly a grace-filled moment in the history of the church” in the U.S.
“I was inspired by the deep faith and witness of the many people attending – the Holy Spirit was present and truly alive! This is a time of awakening to live the Gospel daily as missionary disciples and to invite others to experience the encounter with Jesus Christ,” the bishop said. 
The event, which marked a first in U.S. church history, was a national response to Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), according to organizers.
The exhortation lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization — or missionary discipleship — in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged, unborn and forgotten.
In addition to lay delegates, attendees included 155 cardinals, archbishops and bishops, along with 380 priests, 175 women religious, 125 deacons and 10 religious brothers.
The top 10 states that sent delegates included California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Minnesota and Michigan. The top dioceses sending delegations were Cincinnati, Orlando, New York and Miami. Nine of the Eastern Catholic eparchies sent over 50 delegates.
Following the final plenary, delegates met with their respective bishops for goal setting as a result of the convocation. Sharon Perkins, the director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life for the Diocese of Austin, said the three-hour gathering of the Austin delegation on the final day was a highlight for her. 
“It became obvious that the breakout sessions, the informal conversations, the worship experiences, and the plenary addresses had combined to stretch each of us in some way,” she said. “We were gathered together in response to a call, and the clear call to Catholic leaders is to be completely focused on Jesus Christ and his command to go and make disciples.”
Perkins also appreciated the recognition of several of the plenary speakers that the church in the southern U.S. is experiencing a much different reality than in the Northeast or the Midwest. 
Bishop Noonan was effusive in his gratitude to and for all who had contributed in making the event so seamless.
“Pope Francis has called us to get moving,” he said. “People are saying a lot on social media — they are motivated and inspired to spread the good news and bring it into their homes. We will use this weekend as inspiration.”
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami summed it all up: “Just three words — a wonderful encounter.”
Shelley Metcalf contributed to this story.