Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 23, 1976 when Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien passed away.
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20170702T1258 0032 CNS CONVOCATION LANDSCAPE 800Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., speaks during a July 2 panel discussion at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses, including 25 from the Archdiocese of Hartford, and various Catholic organizations gathered for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) -- The U.S. Catholic Church's increasing diversity presents Catholics with the opportunity to accompany each other on the journey of faith Pope Francis envisions, a Boston College professor told delegates to the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" in Orlando.

Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, said the changes in the landscape are a sign of strength and present new opportunities to welcome newcomers into the church family.

"It's OK if we wrestle with diversity and pluralism," he told the 3,500 delegates assembled for the convocation's first plenary session July 2. "This where we need to exercise the pastoral practice of mutual accompaniment."

Ospino suggested that Catholics of the first decades of the 21st century might begin to understand that they can set the course of a "new Catholic moment in the U.S." by embracing diversity.

Citing the explosive growth of Catholic communities in the American South and West, Ospino said the church is being called to respond to the needs of new immigrants so that they are welcomed and not made to feel forgotten. He said half of U.S. church members today are non-European, with about 40 percent Latino, 5 percent Asian and Pacific Islanders, 4 percent African-American and 1 percent Native American.

The numbers contrast with the church population of 50 years ago, when 80 to 85 percent of Catholics were of European descent, he said.

"The question is do we see those faces in our faith communities? Do we see them in our diocesan offices? Do we see them in our Catholic schools, universities, seminaries? Do we know their concerns?" he asked. "The future of U.S. Catholicism is being forged in areas once not central to U.S. Catholic life. ... Are we paying attention?" he asked.

"This is an excellent opportunity for us as a country to be a poor church for the poor. As Pope Francis reminds us, an opportunity for solidarity of Catholics at all places," he said.

Ospino also cautioned that the church faces challenges from increased isolation, rising secularization and increasing numbers of people unaffiliated with any faith community, and the continuing differences entrenched in the "so-called culture wars."

He called for respectful dialogue among people with differences of opinion across the spectrum of issues that concern the church, from abortion to care for the poor.

"Our society continues to witness an erosion of communal life. If communal life is not important, advocating for others is not a priority. Caring about the most vulnerable is somebody else's problem," Ospino said, explaining that the church can bridge such gaps.

He said the convocation-goers and those they engage when they return to their home parishes and dioceses can set the tone for future historians to see that they have laid the foundation for a stronger church that embraced diversity and inclusion.

In response, four panelists offered their insights into the changing landscape the church is facing, saying that the church will be better positioned to respond following the convocation.

They addressed issues of women's role in the church, the need to embrace young Latinos as active church members and the vital role of family in the church at a time when society's understanding of family is changing.

Franciscan Father Agustino Torres, who has worked with youth and specializes in bilingual outreach to Hispanic millennials said he had found young Latinos want to engage in ministries that affirmed their identity.

"Latinos don't want just a program," he said. "If the church can say, 'You belong here this is your home,' you're going to get an army of people," he said.

Women can be welcomed into church leadership roles that do not depend upon ordination, said Helen Alvare, professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

She said women must be accepted seriously as contributors rather than being chosen for their roles to check off a box on a list. She suggested, to applause, that Catholics adopt an expanded view of complementarity that applies equally to family and the church.

Kerry Weber, executive editor of America magazine, recalled her conversations with parishioners across the country who are seeking ways to live out the joy of the Gospel, as Pope Francis envisioned in his encyclical, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel").

"People are trying to see how to turn this sentiment into action," she said. Pope Francis calls people to show mercy, not as a passive action, but in response to the realities of the world today, Weber said, adding, "We have to figure out how to live mercy in the world today."

Jesuit Father Thomas P. Gaunt, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, said the center's researchers have identified as many as one-third of the country's 75 million self-identified Catholics are not connected with the church.

He said the resulting question focuses on why people who may not be connected with the church still consider themselves Catholic and he suggested that they represent an untapped resource for the church. 

"How do we re-invite and re-engage them once more?" he asked.

The key, Ospino concluded, is that it is time for the church to start building a "language of communion" rather than dividing the church community into different groups and individually responding to those needs. "It's the church serving the church," he said. "We all are the church."

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.