In his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) Pope Francis called for the Church to embark on a “path of pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are.” Last July in Orlando, Florida, Catholic leaders came together at the invitation of the bishops of the United States to ask the question, “How do we live the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ in America as missionary disciples?” In other words, how do we personally and institutionally change from a culture that can sometimes be lethargic and focused on maintenance to one of joyful mission in Jesus Christ?

In the Church in the United States, there had never been a gathering of this type that sought to bring together the whole Church in the United States with bishops, clergy, religious, laity and the many Catholic apostolates and movements. It was a remarkable four days, marked by joy and a spirit of mission.

The spirit of mission permeated every aspect of this gathering and there was a strong outreach to young adults to be part of the convocation. Of the 3,500 attendees, some 700 were between the ages of 18 and 39. The result: We were reminded daily that we are called to be on the move and ready, as missionaries, to bring Christ’s love to every encounter with our brothers and sisters.

Each speaker sought to equip attendees with an understanding of the current landscape of the Church in the United States and to go out boldly and joyfully in witness to Christ.

Prayer undergirded everything that was done at the conference. Daily Mass and special devotional activities were an important aspect of each day. A particular highlight was the rosary, which was beautifully and reverently prayed in 10 different languages. One morning featured an outdoor Eucharistic procession with more than 2,000 participants in the July heat of Orlando! The procession signified very beautifully the call to take our faith outside the doors of “the Church” or in this case the air-conditioned convention center!

The true test of whether this was truly a “game changing moment” in the United States is of course what happened after the conference.

I recently attended a meeting of diocesan leaders in New England. This meeting was one of the most open and fruitful conversations that we’ve had. The two days were marked by a true desire to look at what we’re doing and how we can best respond to the current needs in the Church. Quite frankly, I believe this is the type of conversation that the July convocation sought to inspire. It is hoped that this same spirit of joy-filled missionary discipleship and conversation on what we’re doing continues to trickle down, from the national level, to the regional (as in this recent meeting), to the diocesan, and ultimately to each of our parishes.

The Archdiocese of Hartford put together a very well done 30 min video of highlights from that gathering in Orlando:

Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect Life for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at

The New Evangelization Summit

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