Gathering to Forge a Future with Pope Francis

A man humbly enters the global stage of a hungry world – an abundant world seemingly anesthetized to the reality of those on the margins. Like the one whom he follows did 2000 years ago, he seeks to encounter, to embrace, and to listen to those cast to the peripheries by systems of indifference – the ill, the imprisoned, the migrant, the poor, the refugee, the other. Summarily, his faith and life lessons compel him towards inclusion as he affirms their dignity, their humanity. Before choosing his name, he is reminded to remember the poor, a prophetic act speaking to how he would move forward in this new mission. “I was seated next to…Cardinal Claudio Hummes…And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor!’  And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man…How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”

Pope Francis is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. The National Federation of Priests’ Councils declares its intention to forge a future with him in the theme of its upcoming convocation. The gathering in Anaheim provides an opportunity for clergy brethren from across the United States to connect with one another as they renew and rejuvenate themselves for the journey to the margins and the experience of encounter. For those heeding the Pope Francis’ call for a culture of inclusion, dialogue is the method he consistently advocates. Speaking to the bishops of the United States during his 2015 Apostolic Visit, he clearly stated: “Dialogue is our method…The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that ‘exodus’ which is necessary for all authentic dialogue.”

Inspired by and in response to his advocacy, Gathering for Mission engages all levels of church leadership in dialogue with the voice and vision of Pope Francis as it makes available to ecclesial leaders and seminarians practical experience in the dialogic process. Like the time of the Second Vatican Council, the Church stands upon the precipice of a kairos moment through which clergy and laity can experience an ineffable transformation. Upon the invitation of the bishop, Gathering for Mission offers a day-long experience of the dialogic process including deep listening and open sharing for clergy of the diocese. Experience shows that participants are quick to recognize how their newly acquired skills can enhance and benefit their mission. Subsequent visits are scheduled for diocesan staff, and other leaders, according to the dynamics of the diocese and the bishop’s desire. Gathering for Mission offers seminaries two days in which seminarians, the future leadership of the church, additionally experience and reflect on mission activity.

The focal points for the gatherings are video triptychs from a new series commissioned for the project and produced by Maryknoll Media. Each includes a teaching of Christ Jesus, a related teaching of Pope Francis, and a modern-day witness to the teaching. The video themes are:

  • Called to Be Disciples
  • The Joy of the Gospel
  • A Humble, Pilgrim Church
  • A Church That Listens
  • The People of God
  • Nothing Is Impossible with God
  • Hearts of Mercy and Compassion
  • Building a Culture of Encounter
  • The Cry of the Poor
  • Caring for Our Common Home
  • All Are Welcome
  • Discerning New Voices and New Gifts

Gathering for Mission is a five-year project of Catholic Committee of the South (CCS) in partnership with Glenmary’s Commission on Peace, Justice and Care of Creation, and Maryknoll Media. CCS is a network of the church to address social justice issues that are often unable to be resolved on their own at the local level. The mission of CCS is to listen to the cry of struggling peoples, identify the injustice, bring the voice of the Gospel to the reflection, and encourage the faith community to take action. The theological foundation is the social justice teaching of the church and the gospel mandate to uphold the God-given human dignity of each and every person.

Founded in 1939 as a regional effort for bishops to address issues of land, labor, and race, CCS grew to become a network of bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, field workers, and grassroots organizers across the south committed to solidarity with those on the margins. While never ceasing to exist, CCS became dormant in the 1950s with the intensified struggle for civil rights and racial integration. Yet, there were always those who would “carry the banner” for CCS as issues of injustice became public.

In 1980, a group of Catholic priests, sisters and laity reinvigorated the network, organized annual Gatherings, and incorporated CCS as a 501(c)3 in the State of Mississippi. It is listed in the Catholic Directory in the Diocese of Jackson in the 2015 directory on page 600, column 2. Through the efforts of CCS, the 48 Southern bishops signed and promulgated a pastoral letter in 1999 entitled, “Voices and Choices: Justice in the Workplace.” The pastoral letter raised the problems encountered by those working in the poultry industry, from farmers to catchers to factory workers. In the early 2000s, CCS worked with the bishops to publish a series of eight statements on the criminal justice system. They include:

  • “Challenges for the Criminal Justice Process in the South”
  • “Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization”
  • “Juvenile Justice in the South”
  • “Restorative Justice in the South”
  • “Prison Conditions”
  • “Post-Release from Prison”
  • “Women in Prison”
  • “Call for Action”

CCS has collaborated with other groups to support community efforts including the work of Building the World House, an effort to build bridges between African American and Latino groups; and “The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us,” the People’s Pastoral of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. The Gathering, CCS’ annual meeting, is hosted in various regions of the south much as it was in the network’s earliest days. It provides an opportunity for members to address the range of social justice issues on which they are working and receive recommendations for future action when a response is imperative. Since 2012, the testimony offered at each Gathering has been the basis of an annual field report which is sent to all bishops in the United States. CCS’ history reflects a fervent belief in the statement from the 1971 Synod of Bishops that “action on behalf of justice is a constitutive dimension of the gospel.” This continues to compel the network to go to the margins where it acquires the extensive experience in dialogue and encounter that are at the core of Gathering for Mission.

CCS’ Bishops Advisory Council, headed by Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, provides oversight of Gathering for Mission. Other members are: Bishop Michael Duca of Shreveport, Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler. Gathering for Mission moves CCS beyond its region to serve dioceses and seminaries throughout the United States and Canada.

Through Gathering for Mission, participating dioceses and seminaries acquire the dialogic skills needed to forge a future with Pope Francis. Participants who are open to transformation thereby influence their environments and bring to fruition “a Church which is poor and for the poor.” For more information on, or to invite Gathering for Mission to your diocese, visit our exhibit at the convocation, or contact the project coordinator, Sister Mary Priniski, OP, at 678.982.9441 or [email protected].