.- During the first day of their fall meeting in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops discussed themes and priorities for their work as a whole, including evangelization, the family and Catholic education.
The bishops listened on Nov. 11 to remarks from apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and conference president Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan on the importance of Christian witness and international religious freedom.
They heard a report from the conference’s National Advisory Council, a 48-member group of laity, clergy and religious of various ages, locations, ethnicities and occupations, who meet to offer input on topics discussed by the bishops.
The council supports a continued focus on evangelization and education, the development of a formal statement on pornography, a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict, and an extension of the bishops’ “Call to Prayer” for life, marriage and religious liberty.
In addition, the group supports a spokesperson for the president of the bishops’ conference and called for a review of the federal government’s new Common Core State Standards to see how they will impact Catholic education.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who chairs the conference’s Committee on Priorities and Plans, offered an update on the bishops’ New Evangelization-themed strategic plan for 2013-2016, which was approved unanimously by the bishops last year.
Critical to the strategic plan are the goals of protecting human life and dignity, strengthening marriage and family life, promoting religious liberty and improving faith formation and sacramental practice.
In the past year, Archbishop Sartain said, the conference’s committees have made “important progress” towards these priorities, working to provide resources to promote the Sacrament of Penance, coordinate U.S. participate in World Youth Day this summer, and develop online New Evangelization Toolkits as a resource for dioceses.
At the same time, committees have worked to strengthen the people’s understanding of Christian vocation and witness, enhance intercultural competencies, create effective communication strategies, exercise stewardship and promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
At the suggestion of Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Sartain also reiterated the importance of keeping in mind Pope Francis’ call to be “a Church for the poor and a Church of the poor” while working towards the conference’s priorities.
The bishops also carried out a canonical episcopal consultation – a required step in the Church’s canonization process – for Mother Mary Teresa Tallon, servant of God. After hearing a presentation from Cardinal Dolan, the local prelate promoting Mother Tallon’s cause, the body of bishops approved a request to move forward on her sainthood cause.
Born in Waterville, N.Y., in 1867, Tallon worked with poor children as a Catholic school teacher after joining the Holy Cross Sisters when she was 19. She founded the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate in 1920 as a way to offer personal door-to-door ministry in New York.
Mother Tallon died in 1954, but her community continues to work in religious education and door-to-door family visitation in dioceses throughout the U.S., as well as Nigeria and the Philippines.
In addition, the bishops discussed practical considerations in gathering data requested by the Vatican in anticipation of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops next October, which will explore the theme of “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
“There’s a great enthusiasm for the synod,” Cardinal Dolan observed as he opened a discussion on how to best gather data.
The bishops have been asked by the Holy See to collect information on the state of marriage and family in the U.S. Church in order to help address pastoral questions of how to minister to those living in irregular family situations, among other things.
While confirming that “the questionnaire is intended for the bishops,” Cardinal Dolan noted that the bishops can consult various groups and individuals in compiling their answers. Some bishops said they are seeking input from the faithful over the internet, while others are contacting pastoral councils and other diocesan organizations to gain the data needed to prepare for the synod.