Locals react to Convocation of Catholic Leaders Print this post

Staff Report (Florida Catholic)


During the first four days of July more than 3,200 Catholic from across the United States, include more than 40 representatives from the Diocese of Venice, participated in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America in Orlando.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane with the Diocese of Venice group at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando from July 1-4.

Each found a deep spiritual connection and renewed sense of purpose, place and unity within the Universal Church.

Inspired by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the Convocation of Catholic Leaders addressed how we as Catholic are to become more intentional missionary disciples. Cardinals, Bishops, priests and laity from many apostolates and ministries spoke form their hearts with eloquence and passion about the love and mercy of Jesus Christ they have come to deeply experience from their own personal encounter with Him, said Deacon Dr. David Reardon, Diocese Director of Diaconate Personnel, who helped to organize the Diocese of Venice delegation, and is from Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers

Bishop Frank J. Dewane says a prayer during the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando on July 2/

“What struck me is that we each have a story to share,” Deacon Reardon added. “Our story is Jesus’ story. At its heart, it is a simple message that we often make more complicated than necessary. However, before we can go out to the peripheries to accompany those society has discarded and discounted we must embark on our own internal journey. A journey that requires our own conversion based on our personal encounter with Jesus.”

Roland Gibson of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota said this: “The most important thing I took away was a calling for all of us to stand up as Catholics in the public square. Speak out boldly when we witness horrible acts against our neighbors… The message was one of strength by and through the Holy Spirit to not continue the trend of being “politically correct” but rather to be JESUS CHRIST CORRECT in all we say and do.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane led the Diocesan delegation and was a presenting Bishop at “Convocation 101 for Parish Leaders,” lead the closing prayer of one of the evening events, and participated in a discussion group “Going to the Ends of the Earth: International Mission Work.” The Bishop noted that he was struck by the energy of the four days, and of seeing priests, religious and lay leaders take the entire experience to heart.

“We gathered as a group after the convocation and it was good to hear what everyone got out of it and how they will take what they learned and will hopefully incorporate it into their own lives and back at their parishes,” Bishop Dewane said.

Iris Gomez, past-president of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and very active at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, said the four days were an amazing combination of spiritual and energizing presentations “in which our personal differences were erased to only be one on our Catholic Faith. Unity in the Holy Spirit was present, showing only love and joy between all of us, no matter your ethnicity, language or color of your skin. We were just One Body in the Lord!”

Robert Massey, youth director at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, said the convocation inspired him to enhance and build upon ways that everyone can prevent the catastrophic falling away from the faith that is occurring among youth and young adults. “I will also look at ways that my circle of influence can also be a beacon of support for those that are looking to return.”

Grace Maria Muñoz, coordinator of religious education at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, described the convocation as unprecedented and a once in a lifetime spiritual experience.

“It was salvation history in the making thanks to the ever present Holy Spirit,” Munoz explained. “The name of the Holy Spirit was heard and proclaimed over and over. Jesus’ name was praised infinitely and His Father glorified. Together we laughed, shared table, dialogued, danced, cried, prayed and exchanged insights… The day after the Convocation, I woke up at home, overwhelmed by what Jesus had asked the delegates and wondering where to start. Then I heard the answer as a question in my heart. “What does Jesus want from you today?”

Steve and Sharon Niehaus of Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers described the convocation as setting “a model of how things should be done in the Parish. The importance of praying that we are doing the right things, and not just doing things right.”

Natalie Campbell, Director of Religious Education at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples said it was a blessing that the Bishops in the United States provided Catholic leaders an experience to learn, engage and dialogue with them on the needs and future of our Church.

“By taking a look at ourselves first, we can begin to best prepare for the work ahead as we go out in faith on mission,” Campbell said. “This work will require that we are filled with joy and ready to accompany others along their journey of faith. It will require at the very least compassion, charity, kindness, understanding and a willingness to step out of our comfort zone in a reach to others that are on the peripheries of our communities.”

For Susan Hedge, of Diocesan Environmental Justice Commission and of St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers, the convocation was a model for how we create a Church that welcomes people into the love of Christ. “We were becoming missionary disciples but first we were being personally converted. Our faith became the basis for our work but more so for our very lives. We asked: Who am I? Why am I here? What is it I am to do? As we made plans to go back to our Parishes we will continue to seek God for answers to those questions.”

The delegates displayed a sincere desire to “experience Christ and to witness to Christ,” Colleen Roca, a youth director at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice” The presence of the Holy Spirit was evident, from every plenary and breakout session to the beautiful liturgies, hymns and songs of praise, from the hallway conversations to the adoration chapel that was always filled with bishops, priests, and lay people.”

Father Bob Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples, realized that he knew “God is doing something special when you attend four days of keynotes, panel discussions, breakout sessions, Masses, prayer services, a Eucharistic procession and even a concert from early morning to late night and are invigorated rather than wiped out. Not that we weren’t tired at times, but somehow the experience energized us in a great way.”

The challenge following this kind of mountaintop experience, Father Kantor added, “is keeping the fire alive in our hearts and communicating the message, mission and spirit to everyone back home.”

Deacon Reardon noted that the missionary disciple “has courage, a connection to the Church, acts with urgency, approaches others with compassion and mercy and is most of all JOYFUL.”

The challenge for the all the delegates at the convocation is to carry that forward.

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