WASHINGTON (October 28, 1998)-- Statements on "Everyday Christianity: The Lay Vocation to Hunger and Thirst for Justice," on "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics," and on "Welcome and Justice for People with Disabilities" are among items on a heavy agenda for the upcoming meeting of the nation's Catholic bishops.
At their semi-annual meeting, November 16-19, the Bishops will also elect a new President and Vice President of their Conferences to three-year terms which begin immediately following the meeting. The chairmen of several committees will also be elected.
Other actions facing the Bishops involve guidelines for diocesan vocation offices; decisions on liturgical matters; implementation of the Code of Canon Law; and restructuring of their national conference. They will also discuss numerous topics of interest to Catholics in the United States from a pastoral plan for adult faith formation to the role of the Church in evangelizing African Americans.
About 285 bishops from throughout the country are expected to attend the 56th general meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and United States Catholic Conference (USCC). The meeting will be held at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.
It will begin at 9:00 AM, Nov. 16, with an address by Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland, President of the NCCB/USCC. The Bishops will begin each session with prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
The statement "Everyday Christianity: The Lay Vocation to Hunger and Thirst for Justice" seeks to focus on the call to all Catholics to pursue justice and peace in their everyday commitment and choices--to connect worship on Sunday to work on Monday.
Subtitled A Pastoral Reflection on Lay Discipleship for Justice in a New Millennium, the statement is the work of three Bishops' committees--the Committee on International Policy, the Domestic Policy Committee, and the Committee on the Laity, chaired respectively by Newark Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, Spokane Bishop William S. Skylstad, and Santa Rosa Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann. The committees consulted with various Catholic business people, theologians and leaders of Catholic lay organizations.
It focuses on the approaching jubilee year at the turn of the millennium and ends with a "Jubilee Pledge for Charity, Justice and Peace" that U.S. Catholics will be asked to make.
"Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics" is the work of the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities chaired by Cardinal Bernard Law. The document grew out of a series of meetings which brought into focus concerns about the bishops' responsibility to impart the Church's teaching on the intentional taking of innocent human life, as well as concerns about Catholics in positions of public leadership who promote or support abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.
The statement draws on Pope John Paul II's encyclicals Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor. It attempts to relate the spheres of personal morality and civic responsibility for public officials and includes specific calls for personal responsibility on the part of bishops, priests, teachers and others.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the NCCB's 1978 "Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities," the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities proposed the development of a concise statement of basic principles which undergird the Church's commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the life of the Church and community. The result is "Welcome and Justice for People with Disabilities." The 12-point "ethical framework" of access and inclusion is being presented by the Committee on Pastoral Practices chaired by Joliet Bishop Joseph L. Imesch. The 1978 statement called upon Catholics to create opportunities for the full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in the life of the Church and within the larger community. It was reaffirmed in a 1988 resolution marking its 10th anniversary. That in turn was followed in 1995 with the approval of Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities.
The Committee on the Liturgy will ask the Bishops to approve transfer of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (Ascension Thursday) to the Seventh Sunday of Easter for any province in the United States which requests it by indult from the Holy See. The Committee has addressed this question several times since 1990. In 1992 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted the indult to the Western Provinces (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington), on an experimental basis for a limited time period. Each province would remain free to decide whether or not to make use of the indult. Other liturgical decisions pertain to two Spanish-language liturgical texts for funeral rites. Archbishop Jerome G. Hanus, OSB, chairs the Liturgy Committee.
The Committee on Canonical Affairs chaired by Victoria, Texas, Bishop David E. Fellhauer will present five canonical decrees implementing several canons (284, 496, 877.3, 1062.1, 1067) of the Code of Canon Law. The Bishops will be asked to approve the decrees as norms for the United States. The canons concern clerical garb; statutes for priests' councils; baptism of an adopted child; the announcement of an engagement; and procedures to be followed with couples preparing for marriage.
The Bishops will be asked by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Revision of Statutes and Bylaws to take the next step in the work of restructuring their Conference. The ad hoc committee was appointed a year ago to complete the work begun by a committee headed by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. The Ad Hoc Committee on the Revision of Statutes and Bylaws is chaired by Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk.
The committee will present its report to the Bishops at this time to ascertain the level of support, in principle, for the proposals it has developed. The proposals concern such matters as the number of committees, membership on the administrative committee/board, the plenary meeting, and membership on various conference committees, the National Advisory Council (NAC), and the different categories of Conference statements.
The Bishops' Committee on Vocations, chaired by Ogdensburg Bishop Paul S. Loverde, will ask the Bishops to approve a Third Edition, updated and revised, of the Guidelines for Diocesan Vocation Offices. The first edition was issued in 1976; a second edition in 1983 reflected the growth and evolution in the pastoral care of vocations.
The third edition responds to changing circumstances with the approach of the new millennium. It builds on the earlier documents, as well as on the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, which resulted from the Synod on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day, and the NCCB's own Future Full of Hope, a national strategy for vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the arch/dioceses of the United States. Duluth Bishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, was chairman of the subcommittee which oversaw the document's revision.
The Bishops will be asked to discuss, but not vote at this time, the drafts of three documents:
- "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us," a proposed pastoral plan on adult faith formation being developed by the Committee on Education, chaired by New Orleans Archbishop Francis B. Schulte.
- A new document on the U.S. norms implementing "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," ("From the Heart of the Church"), a 1990 papal document establishing norms for Catholic universities worldwide. The discussion will be led by Springfield-Cape Girardeau Bishop John J. Leibrecht, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Implementation of "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."
- U.S. norms implementing a 1996 Vatican instruction calling on bishops to set uniform procedures for screening applicants for priesthood and religious life who have left another seminary or religious order. This work is being carried out by the Bishops' Committee on Priestly Formation chaired by Miami Archbishop John C. Favalora.
The Bishops' Committee on African-American Catholics is presenting a workshop, entitled Restoring Hope: Evangelizing African Americans on Sunday, Nov. 15, from 9 to 11:30 AM. The goals of the workshop are to continue the discussion on evangelizing African Americans to the Catholic Church as presented at the Eighth National Black Catholic Congress; to review the progress being made and the barriers to evangelization; and to provide some practical and pastoral suggestions. The workshop will be led by Most Reverend George V. Murry, S.J., Coadjutor Bishop of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
As usual at its November meeting, the Bishops will cast a series of votes on NCCB-USCC plans and priorities, a budget for the next year, and an assessment of the dioceses.
The Bishops will elect a new president to succeed Bishop Pilla and a vice president to succeed Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, who have completed three year terms of office.
Nominees for the office of president of the NCCB/USCC are (in alphabetical order): Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, Bishop Fiorenza, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco, Archbishop McCarrick of Newark, Archbishop Justin F. Rigali of St. Louis, Bishop Skylstad of Spokane, Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, and Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh. The election will take place on Tuesday morning, Nov.17. The vice-president will be selected from the candidates remaining after the president is elected.
The Bishops will elect chairmen of the NCCB committees for Migration, Pastoral Practices, Permanent Diaconate, Pro-Life Activities, Vocations, Women in Society and in the Church, World Mission, Ecumenical Affairs (Chair-Elect), and Liturgy (Chair-Elect). They will also elect Chairmen of the USCC committees on Social Development and World Peace-Domestic Policy and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and members of the Education and CCHD committees.
The opening Mass will be at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 400 Michigan Ave., N.E., on Monday evening, Nov.16, at 6 PM. Promotion of Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life is the theme of the Mass. The celebrant will be Bishop Pilla and the homilist Bishop Loverde.
The fall general meeting of the NCCB/USCC will be broadcast by the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Paulist Media Works, Inc., is producing a half-hour report on the meeting, entitled "Catholic Bishops/Public Church" to be shown on the Odyssey Channel, Saturday, November 21, at 5:30 PM. Father John Geaney, CSP, is producer.
Media accreditation and arrangements are made through the USCC Department of Communications.