A delegation of leaders from a variety of Church ministries in Arkansas will gather with fellow Catholics from throughout the nation in July to learn how to re-energize evangelization efforts by living out Pope Francis’ call of discipleship described in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium.”
“The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” will be July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in order to help pinpoint the needs of the Church in the United States and discuss strategies of how to form missionary disciples with faith leaders and bishops.
“It’s kind of unprecedented in the way they’re bringing people together,” said Father Erik Pohlmeier, diocesan director of faith formation. “The goal is to have dioceses across the country with these emerging leaders and people already in leadership to discuss how to put that (exhortation) into action.”
There are 3,000 registered to attend the invitation-only convocation, an initiative by the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person. There are 13 leaders from the Diocese of Little Rock set to attend, who are involved in parish life, Catholic schools, campus ministry and religious communities.
In addition to Father Pohlmeier, others attending include:
• Bishop Anthony B. Taylor
• Samantha Denefe, director of evangelization and faith formation at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church, Little Rock
• Adam Koehler, campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish, Fayetteville
• Matt Tucker, middle school principal at St. Joseph School, Conway
• Cynthia Solis, director of religious education at St. Andrew Church, Danville
• Tim and Rosalyn Pruitt, religious education director at St. Augustine Church, North Little Rock
• Sister Glorea Knaggs, OSB, junior high English teacher at Christ the King School, Little Rock, and Holy Angels Convent at Jonesboro
• Sister Mary Clare Bezner, OSB, vocations director at Holy Angels Convent, Jonesboro
• Brother Anthony Pierce, development associate at Subiaco Abbey
• Sister Rosalie Ruesewald, OSB, coordinator of the Social Concerns Committee at St. Scholastica Monastery at Fort Smith
• Sister Ethel Marie Sonnier, OSB, pastoral care at St. Scholastica Monastery at Fort Smith
Father Pohlmeier, who was asked by Bishop Taylor to coordinate the diocesan team, helped choose Denefe, Koehler, Tucker and Solis, who represent different areas of Church life. A grant from the diocese’s Black and Indian Missions Fund paid for the Pruitts’ trip and the local religious communities paid for their members to attend.
“The hope is going to be these are people who have different aspects from Church life. And already part of our discussion is going to be how do we bring this back to the people?” Father Pohlmeier said.
Denefe, who has been director of evangelization and faith formation for two years, said the convocation is meant to invoke change not just “send some people and learn some stuff.” Denefe said she wants to learn about reexamining current structures, including sacramental preparation, making sure a person is being formed fully to receive sacraments, not just knowing about them.
“Even the word evangelization … some hear that word and freak out. Even just taking time to encourage the priests and staff to fully explain what that word means in our culture and reclaim it,” she said. “As Catholics we believe every day we’re converting, continually changing and coming back to Jesus.”
The convocation will include sessions about charting the landscape and mission field of the Church, going to the peripheries, evangelizers equipped for excellence and missionary discipleship. Breakout session topics will include the Church in the political and cultural climate in the U.S., the rise of the “nones” — those who have no faith — and understanding those that are disconnected from Catholicism.
Catholics that are private about their faith or are worried about defending it with questions they may not be able to answer are some reasons why evangelization is feared, Father Pohlmeier said.
“It’s not about me answering theological questions but understanding my faith on a personal level so I can speak about,” he said. “It’s not about telling you how to live your faith, but sharing how I live my faith.”
Brother Anthony said understanding new evangelization techniques will help him as he’s studying to become a spiritual director.
“I think it’s going to give everyone a new insight and look into the Church,” he said.
Rosalyn Pruitt, who has attended several of the National Black Catholic Congress annual meetings, said, “I hope I can learn a lot of things about evangelization. Our parish is an African-American parish so we can really get involved in it.”
Recently, Pruitt said St. Augustine did a survey and found out “we have a large number of adults who don’t come all the time,” from ages 26 to 39. The key will be learning ways to not only evangelize to fallen-away Catholics in the community but also to re-energize young adults in their faith.
“We really need to kind of tap into that and that will make the Church grow,” she said.
To follow the convocation discussions on social media, search the hashtag #CatholicConvo.
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