Diversity theme for USCCB meeting with encuentro news, VP choice

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz attended the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) fall assembly. He was not able to write a column this week because of travel so news from the assembly takes the place of his column this week.)
BALTIMORE (CNS) – A groundbreaking new study commissioned by the bishops that finds diversity abounds in the U.S. Catholic Church is a clarion call to Catholic institutions and ministries to adapt and prepare for growing diversity, said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.
On Nov. 15, the second day of the bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore, the archbishop shared results of a report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University showing the church is one of the most culturally diverse institutions in the United States.

Bishops and alter servers process out after Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See BISHOPS-PETER-CLAVER-MASS Nov. 15, 2016.

Bishops and alter servers process out after Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See BISHOPS-PETER-CLAVER-MASS Nov. 15, 2016.

It was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, chaired by Archbishop Garcia-Siller, to help identify the size and distribution of ethnic communities in the country — Hispanic and Latino, African-American, Asian-American and Native American.
He asked his brother bishops to look at the data and see how it speaks to their regions to help dioceses plan, set priorities and allocate resources.
The study’s finding that there are close to 30 million Hispanics in the U.S. church resonated in the election earlier that day of Archbishop Jose Gómez of Los Angeles to a three-year term as USCCB vice president, bringing a Latino voice to the leadership role for the first time.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected to a three-year term as USCCB president, succeeding Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, whose term ended with the close of the meeting.
The bishops also heard about the church’s preparations for the fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, from Auxiliary Bishop Nelson Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs.
The V Encuentro, as it is being called, is to be held in September 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. It will be the culmination of parish, diocesan and regional encuentros, in which the bishops anticipate more than one million Catholics participating over the next two years.
“It is a great opportunity for the church to reach out to our Hispanic brothers and sisters with Christ’s message of hope and love,” Bishop Perez said. “It is a time to listen, a time to develop meaningful relationships, a time to learn and bear abundant fruits, and a time to rejoice in God’s love.”
The effort got a personal endorsement from Pope Francis during a Nov. 15 video message to the U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly in Baltimore.
In other action Nov. 15, the bishops approved making permanent their Subcommittee on the Church in Africa and the hiring of two people to assist the subcommittee in carrying out its work. They also approved another 10-year extension for the Retirement Fund for Religious national collection; before the vote, the collection had been authorized through 2017.
They approved a strategic plan that will govern the work of the conference and its committees from 2017 through 2020, incorporating the theme “Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People With Joy.” It sets five priorities: evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations, and religious freedom.
Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour gave a presentation on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, urging the U.S. bishops to bring wider attention to the situation to their parishes and political leaders.
A theme of outreach and inclusion ran through many sessions of the two days of public sessions of the bishops’ meeting. Sessions on the last day of the assembly, Nov. 16, were held in executive session, except for a brief address by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, that was live-streamed. Echoing Pope Francis, he told the U.S. bishops that their ministry is to be “witnesses to the Risen One.”
As the meeting opened Nov. 14, the bishops affirmed as a body a Nov. 11 letter from Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, as outgoing chairman of the Committee on Migration, calling on President-elect Donald Trump “to continue to protect the inherent dignity of refugees and migrants.”
The bishops’ group action followed by a day a TV interview in which Trump said one of his first actions would be to deport two million to three million people he described as “criminal and have criminal records” and entered the country without government permission.
In the letter, Bishop Elizondo offered “a special word to migrant and refugee families living in the United States: Be assured of our solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life.”
That first day the bishops heard a plea from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new nuncio to the United States, that the U.S. bishops and the U.S. church as a whole reach out to young Catholics, meeting them where they are and engaging them in their faith.
In his last presidential address, Archbishop Kurtz discussed the need to move beyond the acrimony of the now-completed presidential elections, but the main focus of his speech were the encounters he had in his three-year term in which he found that small and often intimate gestures provide big lessons for bishops to learn as they exercise their ministry.
The people he encountered in all his travels were concerned about something beyond themselves — the common good, he said Nov. 14. Seeking the common good would serve the nation well as it moves forward from the “unprecedented lack of civility and even rancor” of the national elections, Archbishop Kurtz said.
In other business the first day, the bishops heard a report on the 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders to be held in Orlando, Florida, next July to exploring the Gospel in American life. More than 3,000 people reflecting the diversity of the church are expected to participate. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who gave an update on the planning, urged bishops in each diocese to send a delegation to the event.
Cardinal Dolan also shared details of a simple celebration next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, founded originally as the National Catholic War Council.
Events will take place Nov. 12 as the bishops convene for their 2017 fall assembly. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, will be principal celebrant of an anniversary Mass at Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Cardinal Ouellet will deliver the homily.
In his report as chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said all U.S. bishops are required to speak out for religious freedom for all people of faith whose beliefs are compromised.
Bishops must equip laypeople to speak in the public arena about the necessity to protect religious liberty when interventions by government officials at any level infringe on the free practice of religion, he stressed.
In a final afternoon session and later at a news conference that concluded the first meeting day, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta returned to the tensions of the election year.
He is chairman of the new Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, created in July by Archbishop Kurtz in response to the wave of violence in a number of communities following shootings by and of police. Archbishop Gregory urged the bishops to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism, given “postelection uncertainty” and that some of the tensions have only gotten worse following the presidential election.
Most questions during news conference that followed focused on the postelection climate. Archbishop Gregory stressed that the church should play a role in helping restore peace in the current climate that is so inflamed.
He also pointed out that no political parties fully embrace all life issues, something that had been stressed by Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died 20 years to the day of Archbishop Gregory’s remarks.
On the issue of healing racial divides, he said the Catholic response should start at the parish level. “Words are cheap, actions stronger,” he added.
Archbishop Gomez spoke of the fear many immigrants have of possible deportation since Trump’s election as president. When asked if churches could possibly provide sanctuaries for this group, he said that was impossible to answer at this point.
The day ended with the bishops celebrating their annual fall assembly Mass at a West Baltimore church known as the “mother church” of black Catholics, rather than in their traditional venue of Baltimore’s historic basilica.
In his homily, Archbishop Kurtz said the bishops came to the church “to be present, to see with our own eyes, so that we might humbly take a step and lead others to do so.”
(Contributing to this story were Mark Pattison, Rhina Guidos, Carol Zimmermann and Dennis Sadowski).

Formation of conscience for faithful citizenship

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As the elections loom before us, both national, statewide and local, the Catholic Church affirms the value of one vote as well as the value of contributing to the wellbeing of society and neighborhoods wherever and whenever this is possible. It’s too easy to get caught up in the malaise of a feeling of powerlessness in the face of society’s thorny problems, but the most important thing to focus on is what we can do in a democracy. With regard to elections, loving our neighbor and caring for the least among us means supporting leaders and policies that promote the common good and protect society’s most vulnerable members. Day-in and day-out there are endless possibilities for serving others, empowering, and advocating. Helping Catholics to recognize and act on this social dimension of our faith is an essential task for Church leaders. Therefore, there are fundamental questions that need to be posed in the election season.
Some people question whether religion and politics should ever interact. What do the bishops say in response to this criticism? What is the role of the Church in political life?
What is the connection between our faith and the desire to change the world for the better?
What types of leaders does our society need? For what should they stand and how should they lead?
Why do the bishops and all concerned Church leaders encourage all Catholics, whether able to vote or not, to be involved in political life? What are other ways, in addition to voting, that you can be involved in advocacy for important issues?
What do the bishops mean when they say, “Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations?” Why are both, not just one or the other, important for Catholics? What are examples of intrinsically evil acts and why must they always be opposed? What are examples of the basic needs of our neighbors which we must ensure are fulfilled? What might your own actions to avoid evil and to do good look like?
How might public policies and laws be different if the moral principles from Faithful Citizenship were used as a basis for political decisions?
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
Call to Family, Community, and Participation
Rights and Responsibilities
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Care for God’s Creation
Centuries ago Socrates made the bold statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” There is no doubt that an active life directed toward the common good and solidarity are essential for the just ordering of society and for building up the Kingdom of God. However, the assumption underlying these principles is the capacity for a person to step aside, reflect, pray, study, be still, embrace silence, and engage in meaningful dialogue in order to take a long loving look in search of what is real. This balance adds considerable value to our lives. The formation of one’s conscience flows from both dynamics, the active and the reflective, Martha and Mary so to speak. It is a powerful feedback loop that can bear much fruit, action and contemplation in a lifelong dance.
What is conscience? What is prudence? How does one develop a well-formed conscience and the virtue of prudence?
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart. #1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the church
Reflection questions:
When has my conscience guided me to “do good and avoid evil”?
What are some key resources I can use to form my conscience?
Forming conscience is a “lifelong task.” What do I do to regularly form my conscience? What more should I do?
What advice might you give to a friend who is trying to decide between two candidates, neither of which fully share the Church’s commitment to the dignity of the human person? This might require the wisdom of Solomon.
The bishops describe two “temptations in public life” that voters can fall into: first, “moral equivalence” which “makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity,” and second, the misuse of moral distinctions “as a way of dismissing or ignoring serious threats to human life and dignity.” Describe a situation in which you witnessed one or both of these lines of thought. Why are they both distortions of the Church’s teaching?
What role should they play in our decisions about who we vote for and how we advocate for change?
In the words of Pope Francis, “progress in building a people in peace, justice and fraternity depends on four principles related to constant tensions present in every social reality.” These derive from the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine, which serve as ‘primary and fundamental parameters of reference interpreting social and political reality. The four principles include the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. Taken together, these principles provide a moral framework for Catholic engagement in advancing what we have called a “consistent ethic of life”
Apart from principled living, and the authentic formation of conscience, fear and greed motivate our decisions, or a blind allegiance to a particular political party no matter whom they serve up. Guided by the Holy Spirit, may we choose rightly as we faithfully labor on behalf of the City of God in our world, a dwelling place of greater justice, peace, and hope for all, from the first moment of our existence until our final breath.
(Editor’s note: Read part one of this two-part column on www.mississippicatholic.com.)

Respect Life theme calls for daily conversion, action

091914respectlifeBy Maureen Smith
October is observed in the church as Respect Life Month, a time to focus on issues of life and human dignity, including the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia and respect and care for the disabled. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has posted prayers, artwork and activities on its website to help parishes and individuals celebrate this month.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., the chairman for the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote a statement about this year’s theme, “Each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation,” in which he explains how our everyday actions can have a profound impact on this issue.
The theme comes from Pope Francis’ 2013 Respect Life Day statement when he said, “even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Cardinal O’Malley writes about how Pope Francis has lived out this statement in his care for the poor, the marginalized, the elderly and those who are ill. He writes that we are all called to this kind of life. “Our mission is to show each person the love of Christ. As uniquely created individuals, we each have unique gifts which we are called to use to share Christ’s love. We are continually given opportunities to do so in our interactions with the cashier at the grocery store, our spouses, children, friends and even the people we encounter in traffic. Each of these moments is valuable beyond our realization. We may never know how much a simple gesture of compassion may affect someone’s life,” writes the cardinal.
He wrote about how people in modern society are isolated and often feel like abortion or suicide is their only choice. “The Church’s antidote to an individualism which threatens the respect for human dignity is community and solidarity,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley.
Locally, Catholics are invited to participate in “40 Days for Life,” an ecumenical program of prayer, fasting and advocacy to end abortion. The campaign kicks off with a rally outside Mississippi’s only remaining abortion clinic on State Street in Jackson on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at noon. People can then sign up for shifts to stand outside the clinic in prayer.
All participants must sign a pledge to be peaceful and to treat everyone, including clinic workers and supporters, with respect. Volunteers can sign up online at 40daysforlife.com. Search for the Mississippi event.
Teenagers can also sign up for the January March for Life in Washington. The deadline to register on www.jacksonmarchforlife.com is Oct. 17.
“Love and justice must motivate each of us to work for a transformation of our own hearts so that we can transform the world around us. This is the message of Pope Francis. May the Risen Lord put the Gospel of joy into our hearts so that we may bear witness to the greatest love story ever told,” concludes Cardinal O’Malley’s letter. The full text of the letter is available at www.usccb.org in the Respect Life section of the website.