‘Unprecedented’ event urges church leaders to be bold evangelizers

Delegates at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders pack a conference hall for a plenary session focused on building a missionary church. (Source: http://www.cardinalseansblog.org)

By Laura Ieraci

About 3,500 Catholic leaders, more than 150 bishops and 300-plus priests participated in an “unprecedented” national event in the life of the U.S. church last month.

The “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” held in Orlando, Florida, July 1-4, was chock full of sessions, discussions and workshops, urging delegates, the majority of them laypeople, to share their faith boldly in their families, parishes and communities.

Father Frank Donio, director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and friend of The Lay Centre, is interviewed by EWTN on the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. (Photo: courtesy of the Catholic Apostolate Center)

The event was about five years in the making. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the convocation was intended to “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.”

The convocation consisted of a number of plenary and break-out sessions with well-known and expert Catholic speakers and panelists, elaborating on an array of themes related to building a missionary church. Other activities included a Holy Hour, a Eucharistic procession, Mass and prayer services, and a Christian music concert.

Among the presenters were two alumnae of The Lay Centre. Sandra Keating, associate professor at Providence College in Rhode Island, took part in a panel presentation with the theme, “Dialogue, Relationships and Encounter: The Ecumenical and Interreligious Landscape.”

Susan Timoney, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns at the Archdiocese of Washington, led a panel that reflected on the mission of the parish in relation to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel).

Susan Timoney, third from right, was part of a panel presenting at a breakout session on the revitalization of local communities. (Photo: courtesy of the Catholic Apostolate Center)

Father Frank Donio, a Pallottine Father and a friend of The Lay Centre, was the lead panelist for a breakout session on the theme, “Illuminating the Landscape and Challenges according to ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, among others, presented with him.

Father Donio, who is also the director of the Catholic Apostolate Center, said the convocation was “an unprecedented gathering,” bringing together “Catholic leaders who might have differing viewpoints and focused their attention on our common mission as baptized to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Father Frank Donio, second from left, leads a panel discussion at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: courtesy of the Catholic Apostolate Center)

He underlined that Pope Francis’ exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” was “the blueprint” for the gathering.

“Many meetings and conferences associated with the church in the United States either address specific issues or draw groups that are often of a similar way of thinking,” he said. “The convocation was unique because it was called by the bishops of the United States and drew a cross-section of diocesan delegations, associations, movements, and organizations.”

He noted that 156 of the 196 U.S. dioceses were represented. “The last time that the bishops of the United States called such a meeting was 100 years ago,” he said.

Among his many contributions to the convocation, Father Donio was in the program planning committee and was a writer of the Participant Guidebook and Journal.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston poses with the delegation from the Virgin Islands. (Source: http://www.cardinalseansblog.org)

The Catholic Apostolate Center, which was one of the event sponsors, collaborated in creating participant webinars and web resources. The center was also involved in the development of a special webpage of resources, as well as a new USCCB document called “Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization,” which is one of the follow-up materials for the convocation.

Timoney said the event was “a very important moment” in the life of the U.S. church. It “represented a new moment in the implementation of the New Evangelization,” whose success “is dependent on a mature and committed laity to be co-responsible for the mission of the church,” she said.

Timoney said she believed the convocation will contribute to a shift in the way pastoral ministry is done in parishes “with a greater emphasis on accompaniment and going out beyond the boundary of the parish grounds to invite people to ‘come and see.’”

The delegation from the Diocese of Fall River pose for a photo. (Source: website of the Diocese of Fall River)

Every panel and plenary session included bishops, priests, consecrated men and women and lay leaders. Timoney said she was struck by the way the bishops gave presentations, participated in workshops, and spoke with and listened to other participants during breaks.

“I thought it really was the church in dialogue,” she said.

Both Timoney and Father Donio remarked on the wide age range and cultural diversity of participants. “It was so exciting to see how many people under the age of 40 were present and are leaders in their local parishes and dioceses,” said Timoney.

Father Donio added that his most significant take-away from the convocation was “the great unity around missionary discipleship and the need for us all to witness Jesus Christ in our daily lives.”

“This group of Catholic leaders from across the United States was not focused on the negative or the issues of pundits and bloggers, but on the issues, concerns, and needs of church and society and how we can respond to them as faith-filled witnesses of Christ,” he said.

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Rome in August — extraordinary in the everyday

Every Aug. 5, a snowfall in the square in front of the Basilica of St. Mary Major commemorates the tradition associated with its construction.

By Donna Orsuto

Objectively Rome is hot in these days.

The temperature hovers around 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day and there is no rain on the horizon anytime soon.

This year, the water supply in the city is alarmingly low, the buses are barely running, and part of the Metro (Roman subway) has been closed for maintenance.

All this makes life extremely difficult for people who have to work in August.  The unrelenting heat is a big concern, especially for the elderly and the homeless who populate our city and who do not have the luxury of air conditioning. Most people are on vacation and organizations shut down, including some of the soup kitchens….

Yet, these weeks, I discovered that Rome still has something beautiful to offer — free of charge!

The Basilica of St. Mary Major is the largest basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The snow came, as it always does, on Aug. 5.  Not everywhere, but at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Granted it was fake snow, but nevertheless in the sweltering evening heat and humidity, a crowd stood in the basilica’s square to listen to a beautiful concert and watch the magic of snow in August.

The context is the legend of the construction of St. Mary Major, the biggest basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary. During the pontificate of Liberius (35-366), a childless Roman couple made a vow to donate their riches to the Virgin Mary. It became eminently clear to them how they were to honour the Mother of God, when snow fell atop the Esquiline Hill one hot Aug. 5.  The couple donated funds for the basilica to be built on the spot where the snow had fallen.

Though this legend may not have any historical base, it doesn’t matter at all.  Just last Saturday, the snow machines were in place, the music played and the snow fell.  Basta. Yes, it may sound a bit silly, but what fun to be there!

For a more solemn “snowfall,” one can attend a solemn Mass at the basilica on Aug. 5, and see firemen throw white rose petals from the open rooftop into the Borghese chapel at the “Gloria.”

An inner courtyard of the monastery of Quattro Santi Coronati.

On Sunday, I went for “a dive into prayer” (“Un tuffo nella preghiera”) offered by the amazing Augustinian nuns of Santi Quattro Coronati. This vibrant and youthful community organized four consecutive Sunday evenings with St. Augustine as our companion.  The evenings focus on Augustine’s teaching on desire, interiority, beauty and friendship respectively.

The hot and humid basilica, with four fans blowing and all the doors open, was chock full, with young and old, for the three hours of prayer. Even the auxiliary bishop for the central region of the Diocese of Rome was there.

The sisters had thoughtfully arranged for refreshments in the cloister for the fainthearted, so people could have a break, if necessary.  The prayer, this week, included sung vespers, silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, followed by a thoughtfully prepared collection of texts from St. Augustine, interspersed with Scriptural readings on beauty accompanied by Taizé chants. The evening ended with Compline. Sublime.

Another Roman surprise occurred on the Feast of St. Dominic. I got up really early that day to get a walk in before the sun started beating. I had taken a bit of time beforehand to pray and to remember many Dominican friends on this feast day. As I headed out, I did not have a clear plan of where to go. I just wanted to take a walk. I headed past the Coliseum and walked towards the Circus Maximus, because this is where the runners and walkers tend to head.

Instead, I decided spontaneously to take a detour and go to the Aventine Hill, and I headed up towards the Church of Santa Sabina.

St. Dominic lived at the Church of Santa Sabina, located on Rome’s Aventine Hill.

Suddenly, I made the connection: St. Dominic lived at Santa Sabina! I popped in for a what I thought would be a short prayer. Instead, I found a small group praying before the Blessed Sacrament. I decided to stay awhile. Then the Dominican Friars arrived for morning prayer and Mass. So simple, so beautiful! What a privilege to be there in that special place, on that special day.

I will admit that I had a moment of concern while I was at Santa Sabina, in that I was a bit too sweaty and not exactly dressed for the occasion. But then I remembered Father Timothy Radcliffe once writing about Jordan of Rivalto in the 14th century, telling people not to be too hard on the friars if they are bit “grubby”.  He said, “It is part of our vocation: ‘being here among the people, seeing the things of the world, it is impossible for them not to get a bit dirty. They are men of flesh and blood like you, and in the freshness of youth; it is a wonder that they are as clean as they are.’”

So in that spirit, I stayed and prayed with the Dominicans, and it seemed that St. Dominic himself were there, hovering over us, interceding with us in that beautiful space, for the city and for the whole world…

Just ordinary August days in an extraordinary city!

Donna Orsuto is the director of The Lay Centre and professor of spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

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Lay Centre alum works to found centre for marriage and family

By Laura Ieraci

MONTREAL — Lay Centre alumna Katerine Perrault is working to found a new centre to support marriage and family in Canada. A native of Montreal, Perrault lived at The Lay Centre (2012-2014) while studying at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

Before going to Rome, Perrault worked at the tribunal of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which set her on a new path.

“I experienced a huge desire to help couples. I was seeing many requests for annulments from couples who were struggling in their marriage,” she said.

Archbishop Christian Lepine of Montreal heard of her desire and growing interest in St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, and asked if she would study in Rome and return to work in his archdiocese.

Earning her master’s degree in Rome put Perrault in contact with collaborators of St. John Paul II.

“One of my professors was actually a great friend of John Paul II and knew exactly what our late pope was dreaming about when he created the institute almost 40 years ago,” she said. “It was like being part of John Paul II’s close circle of friends, who shared his vision on marriage and the family and who the Holy Spirit was calling to continue this mission.”

Archbishop Lepine suggested Perrault live at The Lay Centre, in order to be surrounded by other people of faith.

The Lay Centre “was an incredible gift for my spiritual life,” she said. “It was also very enlightening to meet people from other religions and get to know them as brothers and sisters in humanity, searchers for the Truth like me.”

Perrault said she remains in “awe” of “the number, quality and variety of guests” who had come to The Lay Centre throughout her time there.

“Whether bishops from various country, distinguished professors from different religions, or ambassadors to the Holy See, all the guests at The Lay Centre quickly became friends,” she said.

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Leadership expert urges laity to present themselves for action

By Laura Ieraci

The proliferation of programs offering formation in church leadership in the United States is a “good sign” and a huge shift from when laywoman Kerry Robinson began with Leadership Roundtable 12 years ago.

Founded by Geoff Boisi, the mission of Leadership Roundtable is to bring best practices in finance, management, communications and human resources development in the service of the church.

“In the United States, Catholics had risen to levels of influence and affluence, but the church was failing to avail itself of this knowledge and know-how,” said Robinson, recalling how the organization began.

Having observed the church’s needs in these areas, Leadership Roundtable pioneered formation opportunities that connected “high-level expertise (among laypeople) with the management of the church,” she explained. “It is a labour of love by lay Catholics who have more to offer the church than money.”

Leadership Roundtable underlines the essential role and responsibility of the laity in advancing the church’s mission, which Robinson said “should not belong to priests alone.” Rather, by virtue of baptism, the mission of the Gospel is the call of every Catholic, including the laity.

Robinson, who was born after the Second Vatican Council, said the laity’s role in the church is “only becoming more important.”

Kerry Robinson – Global Ambassador of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management

She noted that an increasing number of laypeople, both men and women, are discerning vocations to serve in the church, studying theology and then seeking employment in a church ministry, service or apostolate.

As a result, it is imperative for church leadership to develop best practices in human resources and an organizational culture that will help “care for their most precious resource — people,” she said.

Leadership Roundtable has identified best practices in this and other fields that are transferable to the church and has offered formation on their implementation to dioceses across the United States.

Recently, however, Robinson became a global ambassador of Leadership Roundtable and began meeting with bishops around the world to offer their dioceses the same formation opportunities.

Robinson said she has begun similar conversations with various dicasteries at the Vatican as well, and she lauded Pope Francis for the “managerial reform” which he has made a priority of his pontificate.

“We’re just beginning to explore how we can be a helpful, beneficial presence at large in Rome in support of his program for reform,” she said.

Several months ago, Robinson was one of five women who met with some Vatican dicasteries to speak about the role of women in the church.

She said her presentation did not include any “magisterial challenges.” Rather, she shared the results of repeated studies indicating that organizations with a higher percentage of women in leadership positions alongside men performed better and experienced fewer crises.

“This is a matter of managerial urgency,” she said, underling the importance of male-female complementarity in decision-making bodies.

While organizations, such as Leadership Roundtable, work to bring about growth and a positive shift in the church’s organizational culture, Robinson said, laypeople who feel called to work for the church must make their “desires and abilities known to as many church leaders as possible.”

“Present yourself for action,” she said.

She also urged the mentoring of Catholic young adults in every area of service in the church and including them in the various decision-making bodies at the parish and diocesan levels.

Reflecting on the pope’s frequent preaching against clericalism, Robinson warned that clericalism “is not unique to the ordained” and said the pope’s words also speak to one’s motivation for working in the church.”

“There is wanting to live out your vocation in service to the church and wanting to advance you own leadership capability for the sake of ambition,” she said. “Inner motivation is a hard thing to gauge.”

A sought-after speaker, Robinson was among the presenters at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, July 1-4, and at the National Association for Lay Ministry in Indianapolis, June 1-3.

This past spring, she was a main speaker, along with Bishop Paul Tighe, adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, at a forum held at The Lay Centre on the theme, “Caring for Our Common Home, Caring for Each Other.”

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Living Christian Joy Daily: Everyone’s Call

The Lay Centre recently hosted a small dinner event to celebrate the publication of Living Christian Joy Daily: Everyone’s Call – Essays from Rome by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  The small volume was edited by Profs. Donna Orsuto and Michael Canaris.   They asked a number of pastoral and academic figures around Rome to contribute presentations for a Vincent Pallotti Institute lecture series on the topic of joy.  This book then gathered these pieces into an accessible text hoping to help readers contemplate the difference between shifting and fleeting moments of satisfaction on the one hand, and theological joy, where one can profoundly experience the sacred amidst the many monotonies, trials, and difficulties of life, on the other.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, graciously agreed to write an opening Preface, in which he asserts that “the seven reflections [included in the book] serve as a constellation lighting up the sad darkness that often grips contemporary society.”

Contributing authors Fr. Felix Koerner, S.J., and Fr. Martin Coffey, C.P. joined Donna, Mike, and some other guests to toast the book’s release.  Much of the discussion revolved around the striking cover design which was taken from a detail of the mosaic in the neighboring Basilica of San Clemente.  The peacock was intentionally chosen to commemorate both a traditional symbol of Resurrected joy in Christian iconography, and the unofficial emblem of the Lay Centre which has adorned their publicity materials and letterhead at various stages throughout the years.

If you’re interested in the book for your parish, please click here.

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Exploring treasures of Italy through academic study

With the help of The Lay Centre and Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center, the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University brought 16 graduate students from various degree programs and a few guests to Rome for two academic courses: Church and Mission, a required ecclesiology class for many of their master’s degree students, and Christian Doctrine Through Art and Architecture, a specialized elective.

The courses allowed students to explore the treasures of Italy. In addition to their course lectures, various experts in Rome shared with the students their profound knowledge and insights.  Influential voices at Vatican Radio, the Holy See Press Office, the Centro Pro Unione, the Pontifical Beda College, and the Jewish ghetto supplemented more traditional tours of San Clemente, the catacombs, and the Capitoline and Vatican Museums.

Liturgical events at the tomb of St. Peter, with the Sant’Egidio community in Trastevere, at the Basilica of Sts. John and Paul with the Passionist Fathers, as well as the papal procession from the Cathedral of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the feast of Corpus Christi made lasting impressions on the both students and their professors.

Students in the art class spent some time pondering the birthplace of the Renaissance in Florence, while the ecclesiology class studied the relationship between faith and reason during a private tour of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo (see photo above).

The course offerings in Rome have become an important annual event for the Institute of Pastoral Studies, which continues to grow into a cornerstone of its curriculum offerings.

Those interested in participating to receive credit in another graduate program or as an auditor for personal enrichment are asked to contact Professor Michael Canaris (mcanaris@luc.edu), a Lay Centre alumnus.


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A buddhist nun shares in Lay Centre life

My name is Sayalay Sandardikar and I am a Buddhist nun from the Burmese Theravada Tradition. I spend much of my time in Myanmar meditating and studying the Buddhist texts, but I also enjoy engaging in interreligious dialogue with the local Catholic community.

During my time in Rome this past year, I studied the synoptic Gospels, early Christian masters of prayer, Christian worship and contemporary Islam.

I was referred to The Lay Centre by the Nostra Aetate Foundation and I have been so grateful for the opportunities provided by The Lay Centre.

In particular, I was able to meet with such a diverse range of scholars and practitioners, forging friendships and fostering mutual respect. Through my conversations with people I met at The Lay Centre, I learned lessons I could never have learned through books alone.

Indeed, the words that describe The Lay Centre — faith, learning, dialogue, community — have truly resonated with me, especially the aspect of community. Participating in The Lay Centre community made me reflect on the community of my own tradition and how I can carry the wisdom gained here into the future for the benefit of others.

Of course, I still have much to learn within my own tradition and I would like to spend more time deepening my own meditation practice. For me, meditation is a very suitable path for the development of my mind, but once I feel I have built a firm foundation in my meditation, perhaps I will be able to engage in interreligious work with more dedication.

Obviously, in this day and age, interreligious dialogue has great importance but, as things stand, I see a lack of engagement in these issue from our political leaders globally. I don’t know how to encourage our global leaders to embrace the interreligious efforts being made by our spiritual leaders, but I would like to contribute as much as I can for the peaceful coexistence of the different religious traditions throughout the world.

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