Sixteen laypeople, a parish pastor and a deacon will join Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso at an historic gathering of Catholic leaders Saturday, July 1 to Tuesday, July 4 in Orlando, Fla.
The meeting, titled the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America, will bring more than 3,000 people from the United States together to focus on how Pope Francis' 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"), applies to their work.
Nancy Werner, chancellor of the archdiocese, said she is "beyond thrilled" with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' gathering. "The convocation is a landmark meeting to study the 'Joy of the Gospel,' pray, be inspired by one another and invite the participants to take it back home to do something," Werner said. "Our St Louis team is very energized and eager to consider better ways to evangelize and witness in our great archdiocese. I hope that you will be hearing a lot of Good News coming from our team — led by Archbishop Carlson."
Lynn Squires, board president of the St. Charles Lwanga Center and one of the delegates, said the convocation "is an excellent opportunity for archdiocesan leadership to align spiritually as we continue our work within our churches, agencies, communities and beyond. I hope to connect with colleagues from across the nation and engage in meaningful workshops and discussions in an effort to gain a better understanding of missionary discipleship and knowledge of best practices in evangelization."
Squires, a parishioner of St. Augustine in north St. Louis, noted that the Archdiocese of St. Louis has "a great foundation to build upon given the implementation of our beOne initiative and the results of our recent parish viability study; it's time to take what we know, get fired up and move forward."
Squires encourages other Catholics to connect to the convocation through social media (#CatholicConvo) and to watch the events, many of which will be live-streamed through the U.S. bishops' convocation website (see stlouisreview.com/buA).
The apostilic exhortation lays out a vision of the Church dedicated to evangelization — missionary discipleship — in a positive way, with a focus on society's poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.
Planning for the gathering has been underway for a few years. It was sought by the U.S. bishops to examine today's concerns, challenges and opportunities for action in light of the Church's evangelization mission.
Nick Lee, director of the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry, said the diversity of the St. Louis delegation is important. When delegates return from the convocation and develop a plan of action for missionary discipleship, they will have an impact throughout the archdiocese, he said.
Lee called the unprecedented gathering "a big deal." The attendance of an expected 3,000 people is symbolic, he said, because of a reference in Acts 2:41: "Those who accepted his (Peter's) message were baptized, and about 3,000 persons were added that day."
"The Holy Spirit is moving this convocation," the parishioner of All Souls in Overland said.
The convocation will give him a chance to talk with others who may help with a "game plan" for young adult ministry, Lee said.
Two people from the archdiocese will be presenters. Marie Kenyon, director of the archdiocesan Peace & Justice Commission, will be among the presenters at a session on "Racism and Exclusion in America." She will discuss Archbishop Carlson's response to unrest after the police-involved shooting death in Ferguson after he listened to people and set efforts in motion for racial equality. She called such work "an obligation, and we can't truly call ourselves followers of Christ if we don't do it."
Commission member Ray Boshara will discuss "Violence and Unrest in our Communities" in one session and "Living in the Peripheries of Urban Communities" in another. He will discuss how inclusive economies will help reduce violence.
Black Catholic Congress
Squires will give a presentation at the National Black Catholic Congress, which follows the convocation. Her topic is "The Unrest in Ferguson: Archdiocese of St. Louis — Best Practices and Lessons Learned." She noted that the archdiocese has two parishes in Ferguson and the executive director of the Lwanga Center lived at one of those parishes.
"I was very proud of how the archdiocese and Archbishop Carlson responded to the crisis," Squires said, "first going to prayer, then immediately implementing the Peace & Justice Commission, engaging the Lwanga Center, supportive of everything we've tried to do in moving forward in peace."
Her workshop is "hopefully healing for folks," she said.
The National Black Catholic Congress is one of the oldest Catholic lay organizations in the United States. Its purpose is to inspire Catholic leaders to share the Gospel with members of the black community and to develop and implement methods of evangelization within the context of social and economic conditions. The national congress is held every five years.
The Lwanga Center promotes Catholic spiritual and leadership development within the African-American community and beyond in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Each day of the Convocation of Catholic Leaders will explore a theme:
• July 1: National Unity
• July 2: Landscape and Renewal
• July 3: Work and Witness
• July 4: A Spirit of Mission
To follow the Convocation, including live-streaming of some sessions see www.stlouisreview.com/buA and follow #CatholicConvo on social media