U.S. bishops choose new leaders, receive special message from Pope Francis about Hispanic Catholics


BALTIMORE — On the second day of their annual fall meeting, the nation’s Catholic bishops elected new officers, approved the cause of several new potential saints, and received a special message from Pope Francis encouraging them to participate in an outreach to Hispanic Catholics.


The new president of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops is Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, with Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez serving as vice president. Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans was expected to move into the role of vice president, but after three votes, including a run-off between the two, the majority of votes went to Archbishop Gomez, the first Hispanic in a major leadership role in the conference. Archbishop Gomez’s role as chairman for the Committee on Migration went to Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas.


Amid a host of other new committee chair appointments, popular multimedia evangelist Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles was elected chair of Evangelization and Catechesis. “Problem No. 1 for the Catholic Church,” he said following the vote, “is the massive attrition of our own people, so target No. 1 will be fallen away Catholics, and that’s a huge priority for evangelization. In catechetics, we need to step up our game, especially among young people, who are constantly under threat of an aggressive secularism and atheism.”


The bishops’ new strategic plan is called “Encountering the Mercy of Christ; and Accompanying His People with Joy.” There is a renewed emphasis in the plan on “evangelization, to open wide the doors to Christ through missionary and personal encounter, encourage and heal families, support human life and dignity from conception to natural death with special concern for the poor and vulnerable, encourage vocations to priesthood and religious life, and support religious freedom, to serve witness, and worship in the U.S. and abroad.”



Racial issues front and center


Many bishops spoke of the overwhelming emotions they felt joining Baltimore Archbishop William Lori for Mass on Monday at St. Peter Claver Church in what Bishop John Ricard characterized as “one of the most dangerous and impoverished and neglected areas in Baltimore if not the United States.” The issue of racial strife in America, first introduced by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta the day before, was emphasized in discussion later in the day and continued into day two. In the Monday evening press conference, Archbishop Gregory addressed the tensions of a year in which high-profile police shootings of African-American men, racial tensions, riots, protests, and a racially-charged presidential election.


Archbishop Gregory said it is his hope and prayer that “that those expressions of frustrations don’t provide another vehicle for violence.” The Archbishop believes that the “Church is uniquely situated to bring people together in honest dialogue to foster healing. As bishops, we must recognize the significance of this moment and work with the faithful and affected communities toward lasting peace.” Toward this end, the USCCB will continue to work on a pastoral letter condemning racism, look for opportunities for dialog, and continue to encourage engagement and prayer, such as the National Day of Prayer for Peace that took place  Sept. 9.


San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS, of the bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity spoke about V Encuentro (“Fifth Encounter,” following similar programs), an outreach program that will seek information from 4,000 parishes about how to “go out and encounter their Latino brothers and sisters.”


Pope Francis sent a recorded message urging bishops to support V Encuentro, which he says will “acknowledge and value the specific gifts that Hispanic Catholics have offered, and continue to offer, to the Church in your country. But it is more than that: it is part of a great process of renewal and missionary outreach — one to which all of your local churches are called. Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges.”


Pope Francis continued: “I ask you to consider how your local churches can best respond to the growing presence, gifts, and potential of the Hispanic community. Mindful of the contributions that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of the American society and for the Church’s apostolate in the United States.”


Causes for American saints to move forward


As the meeting drew to a close, the bishops were presented with the causes for canonization for Msgr. BernardQuinn, Sister Blandina Segale, SC, Father Patrick Ryan, and Julia Greeley.


Following his ordination in 1912, Msgr. Quinn attempted to serve the marginalized black Catholic community of Brooklyn, New York, with limited success. He joined the military near the end of World War I, remaining in France after armistice to tend to the sick and wounded. Returning to America in 1919, he took to the streets to gather his flock among the ill-served African-American Catholics of New York, establishing St. Peter Claver Church in 1922 in a former Protestant church. As the depression started to take a heavy toll on African-American children, Quinn opened an orphanage for them, only to see it burned down by the Ku Klux Klan. A second orphanage met the same fate, but the third survived, staffed by sisters provided by his friend, St. Katharine Drexel. He continued to build his community of black Catholics, and was eulogized as a “champion of Negro rights” after his death.


Sister Blandina joined the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, traveling alone on the Sante Fe Trail in 1872 to establish a school in Trinidad in the Colorado Territory. There, she persuaded a lynch mob against violence, eliciting a confession from the killer and persuading his victim to forgive his killer before dying. Traveling through the Southwest, she became a defender of Native Americans and Mexicans before traveling to Cincinnati, where in 1897 she founded the Santa Maria Institute, the first Catholic settlement house in America. She worked among the marginalized, including ministries to the poor as well as the deaf. She died in 1933. Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, attested to her holiness and of a miracle which is already being investigated.


Father Ryan served as pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee from 1872 to 1878, dying “a martyr’s death in the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 when he was only 33 years old” according to Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee. He went from house to house caring for the sick and providing last rites for the dying. Bishop Stika spoke of his “heroic virtue and special intercessory power.”


Greeley was born into slavery in Hannibal, Missouri between 1838-1848. At an early age, a slave owner destroyed her right eye while beating her mother. She entered the Church while in Colorado, receiving the sacrament of baptism in 1880. As a lay Franciscan and closely affiliated with the Jesuits at her parish, she was actively involved in promoting the faith and devotion to the Sacred Heart. She died in 1918.


All four will proceed in the process of the person being declared a saint based on a unanimous voice vote of the U.S. bishops.

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