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A message from the bishop

An unprecedented event

Convocation of Catholic leaders draws more than 3,100 people together (September 2017)
My dear friends,
I spent the Fourth of July weekend and Independence Day itself at a meeting of more than 3,100 Catholic leaders of the United States in hot and humid Orlando,
Florida. This meeting was officially titled “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”
The convocation was an unprecedented, historic event. I am even thinking of placing my convocation ID badge in the diocesan archives! First, there was the size of the gathering. Second, 157 dioceses participated, representing 46 states. Third, while there were more than 150 bishops and 500 priests and deacons who attended, the vast majority of participants, more than 2,500, were lay leaders from dioceses, religious orders and various Catholic institutions who gathered to discover strategies to implement Pope Francis’ vision for the Church in our local communities.
The planning for this event began about five years ago, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for a national convocation that would “convene, challenge and motivate Catholic leaders to embrace the full vision of what it means to be Catholic and fully engaged in the Church’s mission of evangelization and to proclaim the Church’s vision of the human person.” Subsequently, Pope Francis released in 2013 his apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization entitled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), which provided a welcome blueprint for planning this national convocation.
The convocation would not be a professional development conference or a trade show for Catholic Church leaders. The bishops were to select those who, when they returned to the diocese, would be committed to the goal of forming disciples with a missionary heart. Our diocesan delegation consisted of Msgr. William Duncan, vicar general; Father René Constanza, CSP, director of the Catholic Information Center;
David Faber, superintendent of Catholic schools; Juan Carlos Farías-González, director of Hispanic ministry; DJ Florian, director of pastoral services; Sister Maria Serra Garcia, FSE, parish accounting services specialist; Annalise Laumeyer, director of communications; Michael Lown, chief financial officer;
Mark Mann, director of family, youth and young adult ministry; Father Scott Nolan, pastor of St. Stephen Parish in East Grand Rapids; Deacon Jim Thorndill, permanent deacon at St. Thomas the Apostle in Grand Rapids; and Tuyet Tran, technology support specialist. Additionally, our delegation was chosen to reflect the various ministries and peripheries that we touch in West Michigan.
The convocation, celebrated from July 1 to July 4, included major addresses, panel discussions, breakout sessions, Masses, confessions, adoration, Marian devotion and even a concert by Christian performing artists. One participant said that it felt like a World Youth Day for adults!
There were four distinct parts to the convocation message. The first was “Assessing the moment: Charting and Navigating the Landscape and Mission Field.” We need to know accurately the context
in which we all have to live and work. Next was the personal aspect: “Response and Renewal: the Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship.” We were reminded that every Christian is “missionary” to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of the Lord. Such an encounter forms the “launching pad” for openness to our Christian missionary vocation. The next consideration was: “Going to the Peripheries: Reaching All God’s People.” A key question is: To whom and where are we sent? The joy of the Gospel is for all people,no one can be excluded. The pope suggests the poor, the sick, those shunned and excluded. Finally, the convocation addressed its ultimate goal with the topic “The Mission: Equipping Catholic Leaders for Excellence.” The Holy Spirit empowers each of us with the courage “to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition.” (EG 259) Before departing, the diocesan delegations gathered to discuss key points and next steps upon their return home.
I view this convocation as the beginning of a great opportunity. We have diocesan leaders who experienced this call to missionary discipleship and who are eager to share their experience with others. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis issues an urgent, but attractive, invitation to the Church and each of its members: “I invite all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’” (EG 3)
Let us allow ourselves to be formed anew with a missionary heart, and be willing to help form others as missionary disciples of our Lord. The work is slow and the progress can be unseen, like the seed that is planted in the ground. But let us get started and trust that God will give the growth! 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak