From Nov. 12-15, I attended the 2017 Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, Maryland. While I previously had participated in the 2017 Spring General Assembly, this session was longer, more comprehensive and included agenda items – like the selection of committee chairpersons and approval of the annual budget – much more typical of organizational meetings. Still, the Fall Assembly featured a number of significant pastoral issues which I would like to highlight.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, shared some inspirational remarks urging the Bishops to be passionate about the mission of evangelization, calling us to propose an attractive and compelling vision of Christ and His Bride the Church, not settling for the mere image of a bureaucratic ecclesial institution.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the President of the USCCB, related his experience of Hurricane Harvey as the Archbishop of the Galveston/Houston Archdiocese, noting both painful memories and instances of heroic generosity. He recalled with pride the millions of dollars donated by Catholic parishes throughout the nation and the tireless outreach of the members of Catholic Charities.
A new translation of the “Order of Baptism of Children” for use in the United States was given initial approval by the Bishops and sent to the Vatican for confirmation by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. A helpful appendix in the text provides a special Rite for the celebration of a Baptism during the Mass.
A slate of delegates for the 15th Ordinary Synod of Bishops taking place in October 2018 was selected. The theme for the Synod is “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment,” and there will be a sincere effort to reach out to assist youth and young adults in dealing with the challenges (e.g., economic struggles, isolation, societal pressure, disconnection from the Church) they face in today’s world.
Among the activities embraced on the pro-life front is a commitment to fight the growing number of efforts in the United States seeking to legalize assisted suicide. There was heart-felt concern expressed for the many frail and elderly who feel mounting pressure from these efforts, since such legalization attempts create an environment which makes such vulnerable members of society feel like a burden.
There was a renewal of resolve to address the issue of immigration, especially a desire to assist young people formerly protected from deportation by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Grounded in the Biblical admonition to protect aliens and refugees, the Bishops vowed to support the thousands of “Dreamers,” the young people previously sheltered by this Act, helping them remain in the only homeland many of them have ever known.
The recent suggestion of Cardinal DiNardo to create an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism was affirmed, serving as a response to the tragic resurgence of hateful discrimination manifested in events like the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Bishops expressed a resolve to listen attentively to Black Americans who share their story of struggle, with a special desire to learn about the systemic and structural forms of racial oppression which plague our nation.
There was an overwhelming consensus to issue a renewed Pastoral Plan for Marriage and Family Life Ministry in light of the synodal document “Amoris Laetitia.” Recommendations for the plan include an expression of appreciation and encouragement for couples who weather the trials which the contemporary social climate places upon family life and thus offer an example of holiness and generosity which builds up our society. Another idea being given consideration is the establishment of a group of special “Ambassadors” who would strive to bring help to marriages and families dealing with problems and difficulties.
The current state of catechesis in the Church was given a thorough review, with an explanation of the difficulties in monitoring the consistency of religious education materials with the teachings of the Universal Catechism. The burgeoning number of digital editions of such materials has made this task much more burdensome. Brainstorming sessions among the Bishops in regional settings surfaced thoughts on how to deal with this matter – though an overwhelming majority concurred that the primary determinative of quality spiritual formation rests in the development of competent catechists rather than instructive texts and teaching materials.
Enthusiasm and energy were engendered following a report on the progress of the “V Encuentro” currently taking place in the United States. The local and regional meetings concerning the integration of the members of the Hispanic/Latino community in the life of the parish are gaining momentum and building toward a national assembly taking place in September 2018. There is a real hope that this prayerful process of evangelization and dialogue will engage more than 250,000 Catholics to serve as Missionary Disciples giving witness to the love of God.
A report from the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development outlined the advocacy of the Bishops in relation to the recent attempts to craft and pass legislation on tax reform. At the forefront of the solicitation were requests that any new laws respect five key principles: care for the poor, strengthen families, invest revenue in the common good, avoid cuts in programs which assist the vulnerable and incentivize charitable giving.
Extra impetus for dedication in working on the pastoral issues raised in the General Assembly was found in the Centenary Celebration of the USSCB, which was commemorated on the occasion of the opening of the meeting with presentations on the history of the Conference and a special Mass at Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, America’s first Cathedral.