July 5, 2017

Local delegates reflect on convocation, return to diocese with ‘new energy’

By Rebecca Drake

(Catholic Communications photos)

SPRINGFIELD – For the eight delegates from the Springfield Diocese who attend the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” in Orlando, the mandate was clear: Be unified, be missionaries and be focused on the person of Jesus Christ.

Attending the gathering convened by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops were Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski; Andres Lopez, director of the Office of Latino Ministry; Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of the Catholic Charities Agency of Springfield; Melissa Hurst, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Belchertown; Father Michael Wood, administrator of St. Charles Parish in Pittsfield; Gina Czerwinski, director of catechetics and youth formation; Father Matthew Alcombright, pastor of Mary Mother of Hope Parish in Springfield; and Mark Dupont, director of Catholic Communications and public affairs officer for the Springfield Diocese.

Local delegates shared their reflections on the convocation with iObserve as they prepared to return home on July 4.

In a video message, Lopez described the convocation as a blessing and as an opportunity to learn more about “Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium),” Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on living the Gospel in the contemporary world.

“Actually, what Pope Francis asked all Catholics to do in the church, or calls us to do, is to be united,” said Lopez, “to go outside and to serve the more vulnerable ones. It’s been a blessing and it’s really been an eye-opener.”

Also prominent at the convocation was a sense of hope, noted Buckley-Brawner. “‘Always forward’ was the directive from one of our speakers,” she said. “With all the statistics and serious discussion about those who have left our church, it was a good reminder that no matter what challenges we face, we, together as the Body of Christ, are missionary disciples, in a state of permanent mission. In good times and in bad we are called to participate in the church becoming what she properly is: a true encounter and relationship with Jesus, for God’s sons and daughters.  

“There were many suggestions of what this evangelizing activity should look like,” Buckley-Brawner said. “Some of them shared common traits like boldness; engagement; urgency of action (‘now’ is always the time); compassion for others; accompaniment; trust; and joy. 

“One of the panelists asked us to imagine the church living these traits to their fullest all the time, not just in times of crisis,” she continued. “Oh, and just so we wouldn’t go off on some ‘hunt for the perfect evangelization program,’ we were reminded that we are disciples of a person, not a program.”

Father Wood spoke about the sense of unity and the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the convocation. He observed that “despite different cultures, backgrounds, or ecclesiologies, people seemed moved in the same direction.”

He also noted that “our current models may no longer be as effective as they once were and as a result are in need of change,” but said that “rather than a new program, we need to get back to the basics: the kerygma (the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ), service, and joy.”

Several delegates, including Czerwinski, commented on the renewed energy they gained from attending the sessions and liturgies.

“For me, participating in the Convocation of Catholic Leaders has enlivened my faith, inspired my vision for discipleship formation in the diocese, and given me hope for a church in America that will truly live the Joy of the Gospel,” Czerwinski told iObserve. “Through the plenary and breakout sessions, I walk away with a better understanding of the landscape in which we minister in America. This renewed understanding of the mission field, coupled with a renewal of my own call to radical missionary discipleship, will transform the manner in which I approach faith formation in our diocese.

“With the convocation ending on the Fourth of July, I feel sent forth with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be free from the ‘this is the way we have always done it’ mentality,” said Czerwinski. “I will return home with the freedom to look at our ministry with young people and their families in new, more collaborative ways.”

Father Alcombright said the convocation “has rekindled a sense of excitement and hope within me. To see so many people, many of them young, on fire with faith and ready to witness to the love of God in Christ is tremendous. We certainly have a beautiful, diverse and vibrant church here in the United States which is reflective of our diocesan community in Springfield.

“I pray that we can all begin to embrace this new time in our church and set ourselves on fire to be missionary disciples who bring the joy of the Gospel to all within our community, especially those on the peripheries.”

Hurst also commented on the sense of unity in diversity that she experienced at the convocation and emphasized the importance of collaboration between clergy and laypeople in the church.

“The major takeaway that I have from this convocation is the concept of church serving church, especially with the increasing diversity in race, ethnicity, national origin, etc., we need to remember that we are ministering to one another as another member of the Body of Christ rather than as ‘other,’” said Hurst. “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our place on the journey in life and in faith, and our job as missionary disciples is to share his love with all.

“We need to go out to the peripheries, to all those who feel left out or are missing something and welcome them in a real, authentic, and vulnerable way,” she said. “It is not the sole arena for the clergy to communicate the love of Christ to the world; we are all co-responsible for the mission of the church.”

Bishop Rozanski, who facilitated a convocation breakout session on interfaith and ecumenical relations, described the “new energy” the local delegates will bring back to their ministries in the Diocese of Springfield.

“As we have discussed so many issues, particularly reaching out to our young people, reaching out to those on the peripheries, reaching out to those who truly are in despair, we have found a new energy in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,” the bishop said, “a Gospel that brings us life and hope, love, truth and beauty and goodness.

“And in doing so, we ask that God, through the Holy Spirit, continue to bless our efforts to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our culture, so much in need of God’s presence today.”