Tommy O'Donnell

July 14, 2017

In early July, I was privileged to attend the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, a gathering of over 3,000 Catholics reflecting on Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel") and discussing how the Church can undergo what Francis calls a missionary conversion in the United States.

One of the starkest realities facing us in this country is that 50% of baptized Catholics who are under the age of 30 no longer identify as Catholic. And this is not because they have left for a different faith. Rather, they simply identify as having no religion at all. Appropriately, this July, the Holy Father asked us to join him in a prayer for lapsed Catholics: That our brothers and sisters who have strayed from the faith, through our prayer and witness to the Gospel, may rediscover the merciful closeness of the Lord and the beauty of the Christian life.

Friendship with Christ is not merely a private affair, and so evangelization also leads to a transformation of the social order (EG, 182). In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis explains that this transformation must be built on a solid foundation: the defense of the unborn, a defense which is inextricably linked to protecting the dignity of all (213–214). The Holy Father also encourages the accompaniment of women in difficult situations of pregnancy, poverty, and instability. The Convocation fostered many conversations on family life in an often hostile culture, as well as the societal ripple effects of neglect for the most vulnerable.

In addition to addressing these socio-economic realities, one theme that struck many was receptivity, both to God and to others. In an age of noise, we must prioritize contemplation before God, lest our actions lose purpose and we find ourselves "just running around all the time." Multiple speakers quoted Pope Benedict: "Before [Christ's] gaze all falsehood melts away" (Spe Salvi, 47). Cardinal DiNardo poignantly asked, "Who ever listened as much as Jesus to the Father?"

After prayerful receptivity to God, we must then be open to others. When it comes to the vulnerable person before us, Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V. explained how authentic love (as opposed to routine aid) requires an openness of heart, allowing us to be moved by the goodness of the other. We must reflect the goodness of the other back to that person, even when she cannot see her own goodness. Our delight in her goodness gives her the strength to navigate difficult situations.

It is possible to learn much of what was shared at the Convocation by visiting, where recordings of sessions will be posted as they become available. After listening to a few recordings, bring the prayer and conversation of the Convocation to your daily life. Intercede for someone who does not know friendship with Christ and perhaps meditate on John 17 and John 20, chapters which nourished Convocation participants at various points during the event. Study Evangelii Gaudium with your friends, discussing how you can become missionary disciples, in the service of the most vulnerable.

Mary, Mother of the living gospel, pray for us!

Tommy O'Donnell is a staff assistant for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more on the bishops' pro-life work, visit