Cecile Pagliarulo 2017-07-12 02:04:35
Convocation on ‘The Joy of the Gospel in America’ draws 3,500 to explore Church’s evangelization efforts ORLANDO, Fla. More than 3,500 church leaders — including cardinals, bishops, women and men religious, and laypeople, gathered together July 1-4 here to take part in the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.” The event, which marked a first in U.S. church history, was a national response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). 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, the forgotten, and those who have fallen away from their faith. Sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, those gathered at the convocation explored the current challenges and strengths of the Church and its evangelization efforts. A significant portion of the convocation focused on the diverse cultures among members of the U.S. Catholic Church and how to welcome all to the Church and to welcome back those who have fallen away from the faith. Father Agustino Torres, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal who is stationed at St. Michael’s Friary in Paterson, was part of a panel discussion at the convocation on “Charting the Landscape and Mission Field.” “There’s so much beauty within our diversity. I think we have to tune our senses to see the beauty in these different cultures,” said the friar, who founded Corazon Puro, a chastity and pro-life ministry based in Paterson and the Bronx, N.Y. “This is a good thing. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s not a threatening thing. This diversity in the Church, the Latino population, especially Latino millennials, I think deserves some attention. Every 30 seconds another Latino turns 18. We’re not just playing an important role in the future of the Church; we are playing an important role in the future of this country. There’s a huge gold mine here.” Well-known in the Diocese for his evangelization efforts in the inner city, Father Torres said, “Latino millennials don’t necessarily want a program. They want an identity. They want an ecosystem they can walk into. They have two countries but they kind of don’t belong to either one. They are looking to belong. If the Church was to say, you belong here, this is your home, you’re going find you have an army of people who want to be missionary disciples.” Also taking part in the convocation were Damon Owens and his wife, Melanie, who are authors and speakers at the Theology of the Body Institute. They have been speaking about marriage and natural family planning for almost 25 years. Owens grew up as a parishioner of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Chester where his father, Deacon Frank Owens serves. The couple, who are both cradle Catholics, spoke about meeting in college and living reckless lifestyles during in the years before they met. Remembering their Catholic roots, they wanted to return to the Church and recalled the welcoming parish they attended during college. “We knew Jesus Christ loved us when through his mercy, he began to teach us to love each other,” said Melanie Owens. “We are living witnesses to the transforming power of love,” Damon Owens said. “How powerful it is even for a mustard seed of a desire for love and joy to draw souls to Christ. This is our joy to be, this is our work. This is the great gift God has given us to share with the world.” During the panel discussion, one of the audience members asked Damon Owens, “How can the Theology of the Body serve as a platform to establish new language to reach people in the peripheries and help them feel connected?” Owens responded, “I think this is actually the heart of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the work that I’ve done for so long is the encounter. The experience that people have in the everyday life, we’re always searching for meaning. In Theology of the Body, we are made for love and this gift of self, called to be in relation, we are made for communion.” Both Father Agustino and Owens responded to a question about today’s society and the relevance of Theology of the Body. “We got the ‘this is my body world’ and ‘this is not my body world,’ Owens said. “The only thing that can bridge this is by reestablishing the fundamental truth that our bodies reveal the truth of who we are. Everything in the physical world is an expression of a spiritual reality. There’s a deep and abiding meaning that your search for joy has to begin by recognizing what things are and it can resonate with human experiences. There’s a huge opportunity here, more so than a crisis.” “In the South Bronx,” said Father Torres, “when you bring the Theology of the Body to a population that’s asking where am I, they found their identity in Christ and they realize their dignity that they are sons and daughters of God. This has this almost magical effect of evangelizing them. They say, I want to bring this message to my friends. It makes the Church relevant to these young people and that’s what they are seeking.” Also among the speakers, was Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl Anderson, who said, “Jesus is already in the peripheries. The question for us today is whether he will be there alone or whether his disciples will be there with him. There is no other Catholic country in the world that has as much diversity as America.” In ministering to those on the peripheries in one’s immediate area — in one’s parish, in one’s neighborhood, in one’s family — Catholics are challenged to go outside of themselves and be a living witness of Christ. “Those who are closest to us are the ones who discern most clearly the authenticity of our witness.” Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and founder of the Word on Fire ministries, addressed the convocation through a live video feed on July 4, the last day of the gathering. The way to evangelize is to grab the world by the shoulders and shake it out of its apathy, Bishop Barron said. Evangelization is especially urgent as the ‘nones’ — the number of the population who do not identify with a religion, continues to grow, he said. “Yes we face obstacles, but the saints always loved a good fight, and we should love a good fight too, because we go forth with this great truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus Christ,” he said. [This news report contains information from Catholic News Agency and Catholic News Service.]
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