By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Three delegates from the Diocese of Jackson attended the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America, in Orlando, Bishop Joseph Kopcaz, whose column on the event is on page 3, Abbey Schuhmann, coordinator for the office of youth ministry and Charlene Bearden, coordinator for the office of family ministry.
Schuhmann and Bearden both said they felt like the Pastoral Priorities currently rolling out throughout the diocese align very well with the driving ideas behind the convocation. The Priorities were the result of a year-long process enacted by Bishop Kopacz. Earlier this year, the bishop introduced a new vision for the diocese to: embrace diversity, serve others and inspire disciples.
The bishop has asked all parishes to form teams to reflect on how they can support three priorities: creating inviting and reconciling communities, facilitate the life-long formation of intentional disciples and proclaim Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith. Bearden and Schuhmann heard these themes repeated and affirmed at the convocation.
“There are a lot of challenges that we face in the church and the challenges we face here in Mississippi are very similar to the ones in a lot of other places,” said Schuhmann. “What we are doing with our re-envisioning process and the pastoral priorities are right in line with what I feel the church as a whole in the United States is really focusing on,” she added.
“In his homily (at the opening Mass), Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan reminded us that Jesus calls all of the baptized to be a ‘missionary disciple.’ That there are no exceptions,” said Bearden. “He said we are all called to encounter Jesus Christ personally, and to become His evangelizing disciple, to help Him to build His kingdom here on earth, and for eternity,” she added.
The keynote speaker during the plenary session on diversity was Dr. Hosffman Ospino, Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College. “He pointed out that the Church has always been a fluidly changing Church, in culture and in diversity. He also reminded us that each person in the Church is called by Jesus Christ to reach out to the peripheries of society to heal and welcome others, as Jesus did when he was here on earth,” explained Bearden.
Schuhmann said the convocation brought to the surface a lot of good energy surrounding ministry in the church today, but the leaders also challenged the delegates. “How can we reach out to serve those who are on the peripheries? Those people might even be in our pews, but they could be beyond the walls of our parishes as well and so we need to really take a step back and look at who we are called to serve. Those people may look different than we do, but we are called to serve everyone and to reconcile those differences because we are a diverse church and we are becoming more diverse every day,” she said.
She said one of the key messages focused on evangelization, again, an echo of the current diocesan Pastoral Priorities. “We heard a lot about the notion of lifelong faith formation — that we are called to go out. The word ‘go’ is mentioned in the Bible something like 1,200 times and that is what we are called to do – to go out and share our faith with everyone. That was the theme of many of the talks and plenary sessions that we had. We opened up and we looked at the landscape of the church – where we are today. We looked at who we are called to serve and how we can do that,” said Schuhmann.
Bearden said the convocation offered some tools to help with that effort. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. called the convocation a Pentecost moment for the church as lay members and church leaders take on today’s challenges together. “He described the five characteristics of a missionary disciple. They are: meeting people where they are with truth and trustworthiness, having boldness and urgency about the mission, staying connected to the Church, being compassionate and merciful, and being joyful because of service to God,” said Bearden.
Schuhmann plans to bring the key messages from the convocation to all the youth ministers in the diocese and into her own ministry. “It may take us out of our comfort zones and it may push us to our limits, but we really need a shift in our vision of what it means to minister. We have got to take a new approach if we want things to change if we want to better serve,” Schuhmann added.
Bearden also left empowered. The final speaker, Bishop Robert Barron, shared statistics and information, but also offered some pastoral encouragement to delegates, according to Bearden. “One thing really clicked. He asked us to show people the beauty of Catholicism, by showing them the truth, goodness, love, and mercy of God!”
By Maureen Smith