The 21 people who represented the Diocese of Charleston at a historic gathering of Catholic leaders have returned with new energy and ideas for sharing the Gospel in South Carolina.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and a group of deacons, diocesan staff, parish and lay leaders, and others attended “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” held July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla.
This was the first event of its kind in the history of the U.S. Church, and was designed to be a national response to Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). In it, Pope Francis presented a vision of a Church dedicated to evangelization, particularly to the vulnerable and the marginalized in society.
The event was sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and drew more than 3,500 religious and lay leaders from around the country.
Participants at the convocation worshipped and prayed together, attended eucharistic adoration, and attended breakout sessions that addressed crucial issues facing the Church in the U.S., including immigration and the growing Hispanic population, the erosion of Catholic identity among young adults, and the role of social media.
After returning from Orlando, attendees met with Bishop Guglielmone at the diocesan pastoral center in Charleston to discuss what they learned and how to set goals for improving and expanding evangelization in a growing diocese with an increasingly diverse population.
Many of the participants discussed the importance of teaching the faithful at all levels how to be what Pope Francis calls a “missionary disciple,” a person who has encountered Christ, made belief in Him the center of their lives, and seeks to share that belief with others.
Terri Brisson, director of financial services for the diocese, attended a workshop on Catholic education and catechesis. She said the experience taught her that learning and growing in faith is a lifelong process, and Catholics need to feel united as a Church in order for evangelization to be effective.
“As human creatures we all desire to be loved and have joy … we each are coming to this desire from a different perspective, with different backgrounds, needs, fears or obstacles,” Brisson said. “The Church is the unifying factor for us all. We must be open to embracing the uniqueness … and the gifts we each bring to the table to enable the Church to grow.”
Brisson said one goal she took from the workshop would be for parishes to make an effort to provide ongoing religious education and enrichment for people of all ages.
Lexie Segrest, associate director of young adult ministry, reflected on a session about the disturbing rise of a group demographers have begun to call the “nones.” This is a segment of society, particularly young adults, who do not identify with any particular religious belief. She cited Pew Research statistics that show that half of millennials who were baptized Catholic no longer identify with the Church.
“Young people are not a problem to be solved,” Segrest said. “They are to be accompanied. The greatest lie we buy into is that this is someone else’s work to do. Most of those who are disaffiliated are not antagonistic. What they desire is authenticity from those they encounter — people who can authentically share why they are completely in love with God.”
Michael J. McGarry, director of evangelization at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville, said he also returned home with an awareness that the future of the faith depends on reaching out to the young before secular culture does too much harm.
“We as Church leaders must focus on the youth, their parents and the millennials if we are going to continue to lead them to Jesus and the beauty of the faith,” he said. “We have to focus on leading them to an encounter with Christ.”
Deacon Dan Powers, executive director for Catholic Charities, was particularly struck by workshops and speakers at the convocation who consistently focused on the need to reach people often left out and marginalized by mainstream society and sometimes by the Church itself, including the poor, the sick and disabled, those in prison, and people battling mental illness and addiction.
“All of us are asked to obey Pope Francis’ call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ of society in need of the light of the Gospel,” Deacon Powers said. “This is a blessed time in the Church when we all need to go out and minister to our brothers and sisters in need.”
Top photo, Provided: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and Msgr. Richard D. Harris, vicar general, of the diocese of Charleston, meet with South Carolina delegates at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” held July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla.