CAMDEN — “We are going to find our voice and proclaim it. We are going to take a stand of uncommon courage.” This is how the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel came to Camden on Oct. 12 here at The Cathedral Parish of the Immaculate Conception.
The March Convocation was about answering a call to be a mission church — to be people who start a holy fire across the Camden Diocese to renew and refresh the church. The setting in the cathedral was perfect for just such an event. The sanctuary is filled with scaffolding — a symbol of physical renewal and refreshment — a perfect metaphor for how its people move out of the cathedral to be joyful Catholics who love and serve.
Father John Fisher, OSFS, and his leadership team knew it was important to bring the experience of the convocation into the parish. Father Fisher credits Julio Diaz, a delegate, with bringing more people into the work of missionary discipleship.
“We were lit on fire. … I felt it was urgent to give everyone who serves here the same message,” Diaz said.
The Parish Convocation and Multicultural Celebration included keynote addresses, workshops, fellowship and a grand celebration of the many cultures contributing to parish life.
The day began with bilingual morning prayer and music. Father Fisher told those gathered the Holy Spirit brought them here. In his opening address, “Missionary Discipleship: The Time Is Now to Be a Prophet,” he called forth those gathered and emphasized the mission for each person.
“Missionary Disciples take the Gospel and reprint it for the world today. We live in a culture reduced to 64 characters. The meaner you can be, the more popular you are,” he said.
He emphasized that most people know Jesus the comforter, the healer, the one who spent his time with the sinners. “But we have lost the other side of Jesus. The one who challenged the Pharisees and turned the tables in the temple. We are here to recover the whole Jesus,” Father Fisher said.
Taking faith to the streets regardless of the shock, or shunning or ridiculing is the next step. He told the people to be doers and changers, and ask God the great question: What is it that you want from my life? “Don’t be silent because you are afraid! Be holy audacious,” he said.
He emphasized each person must have a strong spiritual life, and prayer is critically important. “The last thing you want to hear from God is — you did nothing, you said nothing,” he added.
This great call to action and to mission means we must “see” and care for the marginalized and the “invisible” in our midst. Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, used his art and his stories to bring to life those about whom Father Fisher spoke. An artist in residence at the cathedral, Brother Mickey addressed “Brown Skinned Madonnas: Many-Cultured Images of Mary from Guadalupe to Czestochowa.”
His artwork highlights the beauty and the face of Christ in those we may not think about, or who are invisible to us. He spoke warmly of the homeless man he came across bringing flowers to the Blessed Mother statue in the rectory yard. The man shared he brought her flowers from time-to-time and asked her to watch over him. Brother Mickey said it changed his life.
“We must see the faces of others,” he said, and he used paintings to make the point. “We must be observant of our world around us. … Let us all be hope and light to each other,” he said, “God is the God of creativity and of variety.”
The parish leaders then moved into two rounds of workshops covering multiple topics from leadership and discipleship, cultural identity and unity, and Polish saints and heroes. These sessions were intended to get people talking about creative ways to grow the parish. The topics were diverse and quickly led to discussion.
After the workshops, the parish EASTeR (Entrepreneurial, Accountable, Serve, Reach out and Transform) Project was reviewed with attendees. All 62 parishes created an EASTeR Project before the diocesanwide Convocation held in Atlantic City in March. This is a simple tool to help parish leaders, who live in the 21st century, have a first century mindset. Father Fisher asked the laity present to share all of their ideas — every idea is worth considering in order to “pack the place.” The parish must grow as community in both size and in spirit.
By lunch, it was all about joy and celebrating the many cultures that make up the parish family. The choices were plentiful, and each table contained delicious food and many cultural icons and flags. The lunch plates contained a delightful smorgasbord, the laughter was noticeable and the smiles abounded as people shared a meal and conversation. There was music and dancing, too!
It takes the hands and feet of each of us to be Jesus to another. Catholics must move out of their church buildings and off church properties. They must pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, courage and guidance. Jesus told the Apostles to go and make disciples of all nations. His message to us today is the same. The disciples at the Cathedral Parish of Immaculate Conception are gearing up to answer the call.