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Special Report: 2019 USCCB Fall General Assembly

From Nov. 11-13, 2019, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops held its 2019 Fall General Assembly in Baltimore. During the three days of the General Assembly, there was an election of new officers, the approval of a budget and supplements to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and discussions that touched on a wide range of topics. Here are just a few of the highlights.

New Leadership

The U.S. bishops elected new officers at the 2019 Fall General Assembly. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles was voted into the office of president of the USCCB. He had been serving as vice-president of the conference since 2016. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, and ordained a priest in Spain, Archbishop Gomez becomes the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead the USCCB. Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit became the new vice-president. Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, of the Military Services, USA, was elected secretary.

Strategic Priorities

The U.S. bishops voted to adopt four strategic priorities for 2021-24. Each priority includes several points of emphasis, including those listed below.

Evangelization: Form a joyful band of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ

• Evangelize a culture in need of hope, especially the religiously unaffiliated.

• Communicate more effectively how faith transforms lives.

Life and dignity of the human person: Serve the common good as the leaven in a free society

• Work to heal the scourge of racism and religious intolerance.

• Protect and defend the dignity of migrants and refugees, of the poor and those on the peripheries.

Protect and heal God’s children: Restore integrity, foster virtue

• Extend and ensure effective collaboration with the laity.

• Nurture courageous and transparent leadership.

Vocations: Equip all Christ’s disciples for mission

• Foster lifelong discernment and formation to fulfill one's God-given vocation.

• Create a culture that nurtures consecrated life and holy orders.

The priorities are not in any particular order, as all are important. The priorities are expected to be implemented at next year’s Fall General Assembly.

New Texts

The U.S. bishops approved nearly 300 new hymn texts for the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office, constitutes the daily prayer of the Church. It marks the hours of each day and sanctifies them with prayer. It consists of meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ through Scripture and prayer. (www.usccb.org)

They also approved the Program of Priestly Formation, 6th edition, for use in dioceses of the U.S. The PPF identifies four pillars of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. These pillars inform the formation of every seminarian who is preparing for the priesthood.

Outreach to Young People

According to a Catholic News Service report by Carol Zimmermann, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles offered the U.S. bishops a five-step plan to help bring “nones,” or the religiously unaffiliated, back into the Church during his address to the body:

    1.  Lead with social justice. This means reaching out to young people to engage them in caring for those in need through the corporal works of mercy.

    2.  Promote writers and artists who highlight the beauty of the Catholic faith.

    3.  Stop “dumbing down” the faith. Bishop Barron explains, “we have to beef up the intellectual content of our religion classes …”

    4.  See the parishes as missionary grounds. Bishop Barron observes, “Young people aren’t going to come to us; we have to go out to them.”

    5.  Do effective social ministry outreach through social media. This means investing in good people to manage the social media.

A New Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia announced that a new pastoral framework for marriage and family life should be ready for a vote at least by the 2020 Fall General Assembly, if not sooner. The framework will have four pillars: Prayer & Relationship with Jesus Christ; Formation; Accompaniment; and Advocacy.